Evidence of witnesses cannot be discarded merely because they were relatives of deceased victim: Supreme Court

Merely because the witnesses are the relatives of an accused, their evidence cannot be discarded, the Supreme Court reiterated on Monday in The State of Andhra Pradesh v Kasireddy Ramakrishna Reddy and Others.

“The High Court has observed that PW1, PW3 & PW5 were planted witnesses merely on the ground that they were all interested witnesses being relatives of the deceased. Merely because the witnesses were the relatives of the deceased, their evidence cannot be discarded solely on the aforesaid ground.…”, a division bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna held in the judgment, which was authored by Justice  Shah.

While saying so, the Supreme Court quashed a judgment of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High Court which had acquitted three people in a murder case. 

In the instant case, in 2007, in Kurnool, all the accused formed an unlawful assembly armed with hunting sickles, came from behind the sumo vehicle and surrounded it, in which the deceased and his brother and other supporters were travelling.  The accused 1 to 3 forcibly opened the front left side door and dragged out the deceased and hacked him with hunting sickles indiscriminately.  Accused 8 to 11 hit the glass windows of the sumo vehicle with hunting sickles and broke the glasses. 

The case originally had eleven accused persons before the trial court, which convicted three of them for the offenses under Sections 148 & 302 of the Indian Penal Code. 

When the matter reached the high court, the conviction of three accused persons was reversed owing to the fact that certain witnesses were inconsistent in their statements.

But according to the Supreme Court, there were no major contradictions in the deposition of the eye-witnesses and they were consistent insofar as these three accused are concerned. So, the high court has erred in reversing their conviction, the Supreme Court held.

“Having gone through the reasoning given by the High Court, we are of the opinion that the High Court has unnecessarily given weightage to some minor contradictions. The contradictions, if any, are not material contradictions which can affect the case of the prosecution as a whole”, the  Supreme Court concluded.

The trial Court convicted three accused for the murder, awarding them life imprisonment, and acquitted the others. The conviction of these three accused was reversed by the High Court. 

Aggrieved, the three convicted persons filed an appeal before the high court. Another appeal was moved by the complainant, challenging the acquittal of the other accused. 

The high court reversed the trial court’s judgment and freed the three convicted accused of all charges. The complainant’s appeal was dismissed. 

The High court was of the view that the same reasoning which was adopted by the subordinate court acquitting eight accused persons will be equally applicable to three accused who were convicted. 

The High Court had reasoned that the eyewitnesses, who are relatives of the deceased, were not reliable witnesses. 

Further, the high court pointed out that the first information report was not registered at the time as claimed by the prosecution, but seven hours after the crime occurred. This delay was not explained well, the high court noted. 

But this reasoning did not sit well with the Supreme Court. It appreciated the state’s as well as the complainant’s argument that the delay was not explained because the trial court never questioned the same. Also, a delay of seven hours in registering the FIR cannot be said to be fatal, added the Supreme court.

“As per the prosecution, it was lodged immediately. The interpolation of the time of the incident, 0.30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., could not be explained as the same was not raised before the trial Court. No question on the same was asked to the concerned witnesses. Even otherwise, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the delay of seven hours cannot be said to be fatal to the prosecution case. Even the FIR was sent to the Magistrate within 24 hours, as required under the provisions of the Cr.P.C. PWs1, 3 & 6 are all consistent in their testimony and they have fully supported the case of the prosecution. We see no reason to doubt their presence and their deposition”, the Supreme Court reasoned.

The Supreme Court, in its order, also noted that the high court had committed a “grave error” in reversing the judgment passed by the trial court which had convicted the three accused, who were the main assailants.

“Now so far as the finding recorded by the High Court in the final conclusion that the same reasoning which was adopted by the court below for acquitting accused Nos. 4 to 11 will also be equally applicable to Accused Nos. 1 to 3 is concerned, it is to be noted that the roles attributed to Accused Nos. 1 to 3 and Accused Nos. 4 to 11 are different. Accused Nos. 1 to 3 are the main assailants. They are identified by the 15 eye-witnesses/injured eye-witnesses. The overt acts of accused Nos. 1 to 3 are different from that of Accused Nos. 4 to 11. Therefore, the case of Accused Nos. 4 to 11 is not comparable with the case of Accused Nos. 1 to 3”, the bench added.