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Pakala Narayana Swami vs Emperor: A Study in Confession and Dying Declarations

Evidence is the most important factor in holding the accused guilty of a criminal offence.

About The Case Law:

Court Of Justice: Bombay High Court
Name: Pakala Narayana Swami Vs Emperor
Decided On: 19 January, 1939
Citation: (1939) 66 MIA 66 : 41 Bom LR 428 : 18 Pat 234 : AIR 1939 PC 47
Bench Of Judges: Justice Atkin, Justice G Rankin, Justice Porter, Justice Thankerton, Justice Wright

Pakala Narayana Swami vs. Emperor is an appeal by special leave from a judgment of the High Court of Patna who affirmed the decision of the Sessions Judge at Berhampur who had convicted the appellant of the murder of one Kuree Nukaraju and sentenced him to death.

The accused, his wife, his wife's brother, and his clerk living at his house were charged with the murder before the Sub-divisional Magistrate, Chatrapur, in May and June, 1937. After hearing the evidence the examining Magistrate discharged all the accused holding that there was no sufficient evidence to support the charge. Thereupon the Sessions Judge, Berhampur, exercising his powers under the Code of Criminal Procedure, called upon the accused to show cause why they should not be committed for trial, and in July, 1937, ordered the present accused and his wife to be committed to the Court of Session to stand their trial for offences of the Indian Penal Code which includes conspiring to murder, murder and causing evidence of an offence to disappear. At the trial the Sessions Judge acquitted the appellant's wife of all the charges but convicted the appellant of murder and sentenced him to death.

The appeal is based upon the admission of certain evidence said to be made inadmissible by provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act; and is further maintained upon the contention that whether the disputed evidence be admitted or not, and certainly if it ought to have been rejected, there is no evidence sufficient to support this conviction.

Brief Facts
On Tuesday, March 23, 1937, at noon the body of the deceased man was found in a steel trunk in a third class compartment at Puri, the terminus of a branch line on the Bengal Nagpur Railway, where the trunk had been left unclaimed. The body had been cut into seven portions and the medical evidence left no doubt that the man had been murdered. The body of the deceased was later identified by his widow. He was a man around the age of 40 years and had been peon in the service of Dewan of Pithapur.

One of the daughters of the deceased was the wife of the accused.

About 1919 the accused and his wife were married. They went to live at Berhampur about 250 miles from Pithapur. They returned to Pithapur during 1933 and on account of their needs of money the accused's wife borrowed Rs. 3000 at interest at the rate of 18% per annum. About 50 letters and notes proving these transactions signed by the accused's wife were found in the deceased man's house at Pithapur after his death.

On 20th March 1937 the deceased man received a letter the contents of which were not signed but it was reasonably clear that it invited him to come to Berhampur that day or next day. Kuree Nukaraju's (the deceased) widow told the court that on that day her husband showed her a letter and said that he was going to Berhampur as Swami's wife had written to him inviting him to come to receive payment of his dues. The deceased left his place on 21st march to catch the train for Berhampur. And on Tuesday 23rd March his body was found in a steel trunk in a third class compartment of a train at Puri.

  1. Whether the statement of the accused can be considered as Confession, as under Section 162 of Criminal Procedure Code or Section 25 of Evidence Act?
  2. Whether the statement of the deceased to his wife that he is going to Berhampur to take back his loan was considered as a Dying Declaration?
Procedural Background Of The Case
The landmark judgment of the Privy Council has travelled its way up in the judiciary by the decision of both lower courts i.e., Trial Court to High Court by convicting the accused for committing the crime of Murder and sentenced him for death. Hence, an appeal to the Privy Council.

Held by Previous Courts
After hearing the evidence, the examining Magistrate - discharged the accused, his wife, his wife's brother, and his clerk living at his house; holding that there was no sufficient evidence to support the charge.

At the Trial Court, the Sessions Judge acquitted the appellant's wife of all the charges but convicted the appellant of murder and sentenced him to death.

This is an appeal by special leave from a judgment of the High Court of Patna who affirmed the decision of the Sessions Judge at Berhampur.

The Privy Council expressed the opinion that the statement of the accused was partly confession and partly explanation for his innocence. By giving the benefit of doubt, the Privy Council set aside the conviction of the accused with the following observation.
  • The word confession can be construed from a statement by an accused suggesting the inference that he had committed the crime.
  • A confession either admits in terms of the offence or at any rate substantially admits all the facts which constitute the offence.
  • An admission of a gravely incriminating facts even if a conclusively incriminating facts cannot be considered as a confession
  • A statement which contain self-explanatory matter cannot amount to confession. It must be either be taken as whole or rejected.
  • The statement of the deceased to his wife was considered as a dying declaration and hence admissible under section 32(1).

Analysis Of The Judgement
The Privy Council set aside the decision of the lower court. In doing so, the Court made some observations which are necessary for identifying a confessional statement, and a dying declaration.
  1. With respect to Issue 1 (Confession):
    • The Privy Council held that the accused's statement was partly a confession, and partly explanatory of his innocence. From the observations of Lord Atkin, the following points are very important for identifying a confessional statement:
      1. A confessional statement must contain an admission of the terms of the offence or, a substantial admission of all the facts which constitute the offence.
      2. A statement by an accused which suggests the inference that he committed the crime could be construed as a confession.
      3. Merely admitting a gravely incriminating fact, even a conclusively incriminating fact, cannot in itself make such statement a confession.
      4. An accused's statement which contains self-exculpatory or self-explanatory matter cannot be a confession. This was later held in Aghnoo Nagesia v. State of Bihar.
    • In view of their Lordships' decision that the alleged statement was inadmissible by reason of Section 162, the appellant's contention that it was inadmissible as a confession under Section 25 of the Indian Evidence Act becomes unnecessary.
  2. With respect to Issue 2 (Dying Declaration):
    • The statement of the accused to his wife that he was invited by the accused's wife to come to Berhampur to collect his loan, was held by the court to be a dying declaration. According to the Court, the statement explains the transaction which resulted in his death.
    • The court clarified that the when a deceased makes a dying declaration, it is not mandatory that the deceased should make such statement on the expectation of death.
    • As long as a statement made by a deceased explains the circumstances of the deceased's death, such statement is relevant even if at the time of making the statement, the deceased had no cause to believe that he was going to die.
    • The deceased's statement was admissible as a dying declaration under section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act. In Patel Hiralal Jottaram v State of Gujarat, the Supreme Court uplifted this decision.
  3. With respect to other issues:
    1. Regarding bloodstained rags in the bathroom:
      Their Lordships said it would be unsafe to relay upon the discoveries on April 7 as the discovery was made under highly suspicious circumstances and that no inference should be drawn against the accused in respect of it.
    2. Regarding Accused's guilt:Held:
      1. Accused is guilty
      2. Appeal dismissed
Decree drawn:
Appeal Dismissed And Accused Convicted.
Relevance Of The Judgment
  1. On Confession:
    • Confession, whether judicial, extra-judicial or self-confession, is an admission. Where a court has grounds to belief that a confession is true and voluntary, the Court can convict an accused based on the confessional statement, even in the absence of a corroborative evidence.
    • However, for a confession to ground a conviction, amongst other requirements, it must be an admission of facts which constitute the offence.
    • From the case at hand, it is clear that even if an accused admits to certain facts of an allegation, no matter how incriminating the facts may be, that in itself is not tantamount to an admission that the accused committed the offence. If the accused's statement partly explains his innocence, that statement cannot be a confession.
    • Thus, a prosecution which seeks to rely on the statement of an accused as a confession must ensure that the statement meets the following:
      1. Statement is made voluntarily.
      2. Statement is clear, consistent and convincing.
      3. Statement must be one which can be taken as a whole.
      4. Statement contains an admission by the accused that he committed the crime; or that he substantially admits to all the facts which constitute the offence
      5. Statement does not contain any self-explanatory or self-exculpatory matter i.e. facts which explain the accused's innocence.
      6. Statement must suggest an inference that the accused committed the crime.
    • In Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court uplifted the Privy Council decision in Pakala Narayan Swami case.
  2. On Dying Declaration:
    The words "dying declaration" mean a statement written or verbal of relevant facts made by a person who is dead. Dying declarations are 'words said before death'. By virtue of Section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 'a statement made by a person which explains the cause of his death or any circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death is a dying declaration'. The statement could be made orally, with gestures and signs, and in writing.
Because dying declarations are exceptions to the hearsay rule, one of the general presumptions which surround the admissibility of these kind of statements is that:
  • A person who makes a statement in the expectation of his death cannot lie. In other words, a person who reasonably believes that he is about to die would not lie.
Thus, generally, dying declarations are associated with words made by persons who reasonably anticipate that they are about to die.

However, in the present case, at the time the deceased made the statement to his wife, he did not anticipate his death. But the statement explained the circumstances of the transaction surrounding his death, as required under section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act.

Thus, even though the general presumption of 'expectation of death' did not apply in this case, the statement still qualified under section 32(1), and was admissible as a dying declaration under the section.

Therefore, statements which are made by deceased persons who did not expect their deaths are still admissible in evidence as dying declarations as long as such statements meet the requirement of section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act.

Later in Sharad Birdichand Sarda v State of Maharashtra, the test laid down by Lord Atkin was quoted by Justice Fazal Ali.

The Pakala Narayana Swami v. Emperor case is significant in Indian Evidence Act as it clarified the scope and application of Section 32 (1) and Section 25. A dying declaration recorded by a police officer during the course of investigation becomes relevant under s.32 of the Evidence Act in view of the exemption provided by Section 162(2) of Criminal Procedure Code. The judgment provided essential guidance for judicial interpretation and application in cases involving dying declarations and admissibility of evidence under the Indian Evidence Act.

  1. Ratanlal, and Dhirajlal, The Law of Evidence, 27th Edition, Lexis Nexis, 2020. ISBN 9789388548526
  2. Kalwani. (2020, June 25). Pakala Narayan Swami vs. Emperor. Lawlex.Org. Retrieved June 27, 2023, from

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