To prove or disprove tendentious allegations and achieve justice, evidence is the fundamental element in a court of law which is governed by the Indian Evidence Act, of 1872. Sir Blackstone says that “Evidence signifies that which demonstrates, makes clear or ascertains the truth of the facts or points in issue either on one side or the other”. Different types of evidence exist, with direct and circumstantial evidence being the most important ones that facilitate a case in a court. While the significance of direct evidence cannot be refuted, circumstantial evidence is used to decide the fate of the accused when direct evidence is not available. In cases involving circumstantial evidence, the question arises as to whether all the links of evidence have to be completed considering its indirect nature and facts and circumstances of the case under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code.
In the recent case of Laxman Prasad v. The State of Madhya Pradesh, the Apex Court emphasized that in cases relying on circumstantial evidence, all the pieces of evidence must fit together to prove someone’s guilt. If even one piece is missing, it doesn’t mean the person is innocent, but it makes the conviction uncertain.”
This article analyzes the circumstantial evidence with a special analysis of the latest Supreme Court judgment and other related case laws. Moreover, it will also analyze Sir Afred’s rules of circumstantial evidence.
Laxman Prasad V. The State of Madhya Pradesh
Recently, the Supreme Court in the case of Laxman Prasad v. The State of Madhya Pradesh invalidated the judgment of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh which upheld the conviction and life sentence of the accused under Section 302 IPC. The prosecution presented three pieces of circumstantial evidence: motive, last seen and recovery of weapons of assault, and blood-stained clothes. While the first two pieces of evidence were proven in the court, the third one needed to be established and dismissed by the court.
However, the court found the accused guilty of a crime based on other evidence and overall context. The case was appealed in the Supreme Court where it was held that the High Court’s decision was not in accordance with the law and chain of evidence has to be completed as a whole to convict the accused. The accused can not be convicted based on the proof of some evidence, otherwise, it would lead to a miscarriage of justice. Therefore, the court allowed the appeal and set aside the conviction and death sentence of the accused. The court has referred to Sharad Birdhichand Sharda vs State of Maharashtra and Sailendra Rajdev Pasvan vs. State of Gujarat in deciding the case.
In the case of Sharad Birdichand vs. The State of Maharashtra, the court reaffirmed the five golden rules which are to be proved by the prosecution in the case of circumstantial evidence. These principles were laid down by the Apex Court in the case of Manumant v. State of Madhya Pradesh wherein it established the “Doctrine of Circumstantial Evidence”.
- The circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established. There is not only a grammatical but a legal distinction between ‘may be proved’ and “must be or should be proved.
- The facts that are established by the prosecution should be consistent with the hypothesis of culpability of the accused and should not explain any other hypothesis.
- They must rule out all other reasonable hypotheses except the one that needs to be proved.
- The circumstances must be of conclusive nature and tendency.
- The chain of evidence must be so complete that it does not leave any basis that the accused is innocent.
In the case of Sailendra Rajdev Pasvan vs. State of Gujarat etc, the court proposed twofold requirements in the case of circumstantial evidence. First, The prosecution must prove every aspect of the chain of events that leads to the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Secondly, all the evidence must be consistent and point solely to the accused’s guilt.
In the case of State of UP v. Satish, the Supreme Court ruled that in situations relying on circumstantial evidence, the relevant circumstances must be directly connected to the main fact being inferred from them.
Sir Alfred “Wills’ Circumstantial Evidence”
In the book “Wills’ Circumstantial Evidence” (Chapter VI), Sir Alfred laid down rules which are to be considered in the case of circumstantial evidence. These are as follows:
- The facts alleged against the accused should be proven, beyond reasonable doubt.
- The burden of proof is always on the party asserting the existence of any fact that infers legal accountability.
- In all cases of direct and circumstantial evidence, the best evidence should be presented, considering the nature of the case.
- To establish the culpability of the accused, the inculpatory facts should be inconsistent with the accused’s innocence and should not allow for any other explanation other than guilt.
- The accused has a right to be acquitted if there is any reasonable ground to prove their innocence.
Analysis and Conclusion
Circumstantial evidence is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “indirect evidence founded on circumstances which restrict the number of admissible hypotheses”. The interpretation of facts and circumstances is the fundamental element in circumstantial evidence used to prove the guilt of an accused. However, this can be subjective in nature as different people may interpret the same facts and circumstances differently. This subjective interpretation poses a challenge for the court in linking the chain of evidence to establish the guilt of the accused, often resulting in multiple explanations from the same set of facts.
In the case of Dayashil v. The State of Maharashtra, the Court held that circumstantial evidence should be used cautiously to prove the culpability of the accused. Any presumption that proves the innocence of the accused must be taken seriously and failure to do so may lead to miscarriage of justice. Similarly, in the case of State of U.P v. Ashok Kumar Srivastava, the Apex Court held that if the evidence is based on two explanations, one favouring the accused and the other against him, the explanation favouring the accused should be accepted. Furthermore, the court emphasizes that the inference should be well established, beyond a reasonable doubt.
In criminal cases, the court must establish the evidence, whether it is direct or circumstantial, to ensure a fair trial and justice for the citizens. This not only instils faith in the judiciary but also strengthens the judicial system. Moreover, in cases involving circumstantial evidence, the court must provide the accused with a fair chance to prove their innocence. If any evidence points to their innocence, they should be acquitted. Therefore, In the case of Laxman Prasad v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the court reaffirmed that all the links of evidence should be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to establish the guilt of the accused. This approach helps reduce the possibility of miscarriage of justice and serves as the landmark judgment by the Apex Court, However, considering the subjective interpretation of circumstantial evidence, the court must still take a stance, to prevent multiple explanations of the same facts from leading to a miscarriage of justice.
This article is written and submitted by Bhumika Grover during her course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Bhumika is a BA.LLB 2nd Year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.