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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A witness is a person who shares information about the case, either orally, or in writing, to the court or anywhere else.
  • A related witness is a person who has some sort of relationship with the victim. Some examples include but are not limited to, a parent of a child victim, a spouse of the victim, any sibling of the victim, etc.
  • An interested witness is a person, who has a reason to be a witness as they might gain some benefit from the punishment of the accused and hence may have a special interest in the result of the proceedings.
  • In the case of Nokhe Lal v. State of U.P. and 2 Others, the judges acquitted the accused as there were discrepancies in the testimonies of the witnesses.

INTRODUCTION

When studying the value of the testimony of various kinds of witnesses, it is important to know that who is a witness, what is their importance and how has the court of law defined them. Witnesses are of two kinds, interested witness and related witness. In this article, we will analyse the value of the testimony given by a related witness and an interested witness. In Madhuranatha V. State of Karnataka[AIR 2014 (SC) 394], the court held that a witness is a person who shares information about the case, either orally, or in writing, to the court or anywhere else. Usually, a witness is considered to be unbiased, unless they come from a biased source, or have reason to benefit from the prosecution of the accused. The capacity of a witness is mentioned in Section 118-134 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872.

There are certain conditions that a witness’s testimony should fulfill to be deemed credible in the court of law:

  • Access to the correct information by the witness
  • The reason behind the hiding of the truth by the witness
  • An agreement or non-discrepancy between the witnesses

This test was laid out in the case of Gangadhar Behera and others vs. State of Orissa [2003 SCC (Cri) 32].

RELATED WITNESS

A related witness is a person who has some sort of relationship with the victim. Some examples include but are not limited to, a parent of a child victim, a spouse of the victim, any sibling of the victim, etc.

Because there is a personal relationship between the related witness and the victim, it would be assumed that the witness would have good intentions and would want to see the culprit punished (Jarnail Singh vs. State of Punjab [(2009) 9 SCC 719]). But this is not the case every time. Instead of only looking at the relationship between the victim and the related witness, the courts look at the credibility and the truthfulness of the testimony of the witness. This has been seen in cases such as Raju alias Balachandran vs. State of Tamil Nadu[AIR 2013 SC 983]and A. Alagupandian vs. State of Tamil Nadu[2012(3) RCR (Criminal) 729 (SC)].

The Apex court has also held in Balraje vs. State of Maharashtra[(2010) 6 SCC 673], that if the testimony of the witness, is “clear, cogent and credible”, after careful analysis, it could be discarded only on the account of it coming from a related witness.

According to section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act states:

“No person who is or has been married shall be competent to disclose any communication made to him during marriage by any person to whom he is or has been married; nor shall he be permitted to disclose any such communication, unless the person who made it or his representative-in-interest consents, except in suit between married person is prosecuted for any crime committed against the other.”

In the case of Bishan Das v. Crown [27 PR. 1913(Cr)], the court held that just because a statement from the wife was taken against her husband without any objection by her husband, it did not disregard Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act. Moreover, just the relationship of a witness wouldn’t be sufficient grounds to reject a testimony. It was also observed that a person related is not the same as an interested and a close relative is regarded as a natural witness.

Some landmark cases on the testimony of related witnesses:

  1. Raja Gounder V. State of Tamil Nadu [2011(1) RCR (Criminal) 614]– In the case related to a land dispute,the court held that the reliability of the testimony from a related witness, who was the wife of the deceased, was upheld as there were no independent witnesses. Moreover, the court held that the wife would be the last person who would give false testimony to involve her brothers-in-law who were the appellants.
  2. Bhagwan Swarup V. State of U.P [AIR 1971 SC 429]– The court held that just because the witnesses were related to each other, their testimony could not be disregarded. It also held that it was not necessary that a related witness would always have the intentions to see the culprit or the offender be punished for their alleged crime, and that the credibility of a witnesses' testimony, who was the related witness, would depend upon the facts and the circumstance of the very case.

INTERESTED WITNESS

An interested witness is a person, who has a reason to be a witness as they might gain some benefit from the punishment of the accused and hence may have a special interest in the result of the proceedings.

Like in the case of the related witnesses, there are some assumptions and preconceived notions about the credibility of the testimony given by an interested witness. It is assumed that an interested witness, is someone who deliberately wants the person accused to be awarded with the punishment for the alleged crime and the reason for the might not be justice but some other ulterior motive of that witness. Hence the testimony of an interested witness is considered to be highly unreliable. This has been held in the case of Takdir Samsuddin Sheikh V. State of Gujrat[2011 (4) RCR (Criminal) 840 (SC)], where the term ‘interested’ was emphasized vis-a-vis the witness who would be interested to see the accused in jail anyhow.

However, even this assumption about the interested witness, wanting to see the accused punished is baseless, as the testimony of the interested witness cannot be discarded only because of its partisan nature. Along with analysis and investigation of the testimony of a related witness with extreme care and caution, scrutiny and corroboration to a material extent are required. Therefore, the acceptance of testimony by an interested witness is dependent upon the scrutiny and the caution observed by the court of law. This has been held in Mano Dutt and Anr vs. State of U.P [(2012) 4 SCC 79]and State of Haryana v. Shakuntla [2009 Cri. LJ 2805].

Some landmark cases on the testimony of the interested witnesses:

  1. Joginder Singh vs. State[14 (1978) DLT 205]– In this case, the Supreme court held that the testimony of an interested witness could not be discredited on the grounds of the relationship the witness with the accused or the victim as long as it had been looked at with caution and scrutiny.
  2. State of Bihar vs. Shaukat Mian [2011 (6) RCR (Cri) 1967 Patna (DB)] -In this case even, it was held that the relationship between the victim and the witness would not bar the testimony of the interested witness from being credible and admissible in the court of law as evidence. Further, it was held that an interested witness who was a relative of the victim could be the person who could ensure that justice was provided to the victim.
  3. Nokhe Lal v. State of U.P. and 2 Others (Crl. A. U/S 372 Cr.P.C. No. 4858 of 2014)+ - In this case, the appellant told the police that while he was going home after visiting a temple, the people accused, Hariram Prajapati (the accused respondent No. 2) and Dhirendra Singh (the accused-respondent No. 3) caught hold of him and assaulted him with kicks, fists and a gun. They blackmailed him and said that they would only let him go if he gave them a sum of Rupees Ten thousand. He also said that they threatened him and said they would kill him by shooting him with a gun and a country-made pistol. Upon finding the right opportunity, the appellant ran with the motive to return safely to his home, however, just then, another accused, with the name of ‘Dhanni’ fired a 315 country-made pistol towards him with the intention of killing him. The informant further said that the pistol shot missed his temple. The accused had followed the victim and assaulted his mother and his sister with shoes, kicks, and fists and moreover, destroyed the household goods. The informant said that the people accused threatened him against reporting the alleged incident. After examining the witnesses, the court found that there were many discrepancies in the testimony of the prosecutions’ witnesses. Therefore, upon the examination of all the witnesses, the lie which the appellant and the witnesses had told came to light. And thus, the high court concluded that the prosecution failed to make any ground for the case for its admission. The case was, therefore, dismissed by the court with the reiteration of the well-settled principle that the interested witnesses were supposed to be examined with extra care and caution.

Some things to consider when a relative is an interested witness:

  1. A close relative of a person is not said to be an interested witness. Rather they are known as ‘natural witnesses’, as they do not have any personal interest or gain from the results of the proceeding as the interested witness does.
  2. Every related witness is not an interested witness, therefore the testimony of a relative of a victim cannot be disregarded by a court only based on the relationship between the witness and the victim. Proper scrutiny and caution should be maintained by a court while dealing with interested witnesses.
  3. A close relative would naturally neither want the person who committed the crime to go free nor an innocent person to be punished, therefore the testimony of a close relative should be given weightage.

CONCLUSION

The credibility of the testimony of a witness should not be judged based on the relationship of the witness to the victim. If the testimony of the related witness is reliable, credible, trustworthy, and supported by evidence recorded by the Court, it should be considered to be credible. The Court has to exercise extra caution and scrutiny while examining the testimony of an interested witness.The Court can not discard the credibility of the testimony presented before it on the grounds of the pre-existing relationship of the Witness with either the accused or the victim as a relative is supposed to be a natural witness.


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