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Truth in the Criminal Justice System.

Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs Report VOLUME I states, “TRUTH AND JUSTICE “Truth does not pay homage to any society ancient or modern. But society has to pay homage to truth or perish” (Swami Vivekananda.)

2.16.1. The Indian ethos accords the highest importance to truth. The motto Satyameva Jayate (Truth alone succeeds) is inscribed in our National Emblem “Ashoka Sthambha”. Our epics extol the virtue of truth. Gandhiji gave us truth – as the righteous means to achieve independence by launching the movement of Satyagraha”.

“2.16.8. In practice however we find that the Judge, in his anxiety to demonstrate his neutrality opts to remain passive and truth often becomes a casualty. Failure to ascertain truth may be on account of errors or omissions on the part of the investigation agency, the prosecution or the faulty attitude of the parties, the witnesses or inadequacies in the principles and laws regulating the system. There is no provision in the Code which expressly imposes a duty on the court to search for truth. It is a general feeling that it is falsehood that often succeeds in courts.

2.16.9. Truth being the cherished ideal and ethos of India, pursuit of truth should be the guiding star of the Criminal Justice System. For justice to be done truth must prevail. It is truth that must protect the innocent and it is truth that must be the basis to punish the guilty. Truth is the very soul of justice. Therefore truth should become the ideal to inspire the courts to pursue. This can be achieved by statutorily mandating the courts to become active seekers of truth. It is of seminal importance to inject vitality into our system if we have to regain the lost confidence of the people. Concern for and duty to seek truth should not become the limited concern of the courts. It should become the paramount duty of everyone to assist the court in its quest for truth. It is the duty of a Court not only to do justice but also to ensure that justice is being done.”

The foundation of any judicial process is the authenticity of evidences and the honesty of witnesses in trial. Credibility of the witness’ testimony should be established first to bring out the truth to deliver judgments. “Perjury which is knowingly making false statement is a crime, because lying under oath can subvert the integrity of a trial and the legitimacy of the judicial system.” Statements of the witness mostly comes out of their memories particularly in the case of eyewitnesses in a criminal case and “recognizing the fallibility of witness memories, then, is especially important to participants in the judicial process, since many trials revolve around factual determinations of whom to believe. Rarely will a factual question result in a successful appeal effectively giving many parties only one chance at justice. Arriving at a just result and a correct determination of truth is difficult enough without the added possibility that witnesses themselves may not be aware of inaccuracies in their testimony.” Therefore it is imperative that truth should prevail while elucidating the statements of the witnesses.

The testimony of witnesses particularly eyewitnesses whose memories may have been distorted can lead to the conviction of innocent persons while true perpetrators remain free. In this connection The Innocence Project in New York City stands as a testimony to the wrongful conviction of innocent people. “The Innocence Project in New York City which advocates the use of DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted people, lists 310 exonerated individuals (as of July 8th, 2013). These individuals were typically convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony and spent an average of 13.6 years in confinement before being released.”

Circumstantial evidences play a very important role in criminal justice. These evidences are to be corroborated by documents and statements of witnesses. Documents by themselves may not be sufficient to prove the guilt and they should be substantiated by the statements of the witnesses. Supreme Court has in AIR 1974 SC 859 Collector of Customs, Madras vs. D.Bhoormall, held: “All that it requires is the establishment of such a degree of probability that a prudent man may, on its basis, believe in the existence of the fact in issue. Thus, legal proof is not necessarily perfect proof; often it is nothing more than a prudent man’s estimate as to the probabilities of the case.” Unless the reliability of the evidences is established beyond a shadow of doubt, the probabilities coming out of the circumstantial evidences cannot be taken as authentic.

The Indian Evidence Act (Act of 1872) under Part I-Relevancy of Facts-section 3 on Circumstantial evidence it is stated, “It is one of the established principles of law that a witness may lie but not the circumstances. However, the court must adopt a cautious approach while basing its conviction purely on circumstantial evidence.” In the judgment of Supreme Court of India (AIR 1952 SC 343:1953 CriLJ 129) in the matter of Hanumand Govind Narjundkar v. State of MP, the Hon’ble Supreme Court said, “In dealing with circumstantial evidence the rules especially applicable to such evidence must be borne in mind. In such cases there is always the danger that conjecture or suspicion may take place of legal proof and, therefore, it is right to recall the warning addressed by BARON ALDERSON to the jury in Reg vs. Hodge wherein His Lordship said: “The mind was apt to take a pleasure in adapting circumstances to one another and even in straining them a little, if need be to force them to form parts of one connected whole; and more ingenious the mind of the individual, the more likely was it, considering such matters, to over reach and mislead itself, to supply some little link that is waiting to take for granted some facts consistent with its previous theories and necessarily to render them complete.

However it does not mean that before the prosecution can succeed in a case resting upon circumstantial evidence alone, it must many and every one of the proved facts must in itself be decisive of the complicity of the accused or point conclusively to his guilt. Therefore, when deciding the question of sufficiency, what the court has to consider is the total cumulative effect of all the proved facts each one of which re-enforces the conclusion of guilt. In such cases, the court must guard against the danger of allowing conjuncture or suspicion to take the place of legal proof. There is this basic rule of criminal jurisprudence that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in a case of circumstantial evidence, one pointing to the guilt of the accused, and the other to his innocence, the court should adopt a view favourable to the accused”.

In yet another case of Ganpat vs. State, 1987 Cr LJ 6 ((Del) the judgment said that where circumstantial evidence was contrary to the medial evidence, hence the accused got acquittal. From the circumstantial evidence there should be inevitable conclusion of the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt and the facts established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. If two views are possible, the court should adopt the view favourable to the accused.

In reference to cases where there is no direct evidence and the decision has to rest on circumstantial evidence, the Supreme Court in a line of decisions has consistently held that such evidence must satisfy the following tests:

(1) The circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn must be cogently and firmly established.

(2) Those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused;

(3) The circumstances taken towards cumulatively, should form a chain so complete that there is escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and none else, and

(4) The circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation on any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be consistent with his innocence.”

The Supreme Court in one of the judgments observed, “The circumstances from which an inference as to the guilt of the accused is drawn have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and have to be shown to be closely connected with the principal fact sought to be inferred from those circumstances.” Having said about the importance of bringing truth being the paramount necessity, it also has to be established that all evidences should prove beyond any reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused person. But the challenge in the legal system is how the truth and nothing but the truth to be established and the evidences beyond any reasonable doubt should be proved because adopting Goebbels theory on the “BIG LIE” can distort and manipulate truth and circumstantial evidences can be created by dubious means leading to acquittal of the guilty and in lieu punishing the innocent ending in the miscarriage of justice. Can the miscarriage of justice be prevented?

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