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Judicial Appreciation Of Evidentiary Stature Of Confessions Under Section 30 Of The Evidence Act

Section 30 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA) deals with confession made jointly by an accused that also involves the co-accused. While confession has been nowhere defined under the Act, it has been well-settled that a confession is an admission that contains entirely self-inculpatory matter [Om Prakash v. State of U.P., AIR 1960 SC 409], meaning where there is an admission of guilt or where conviction can be based on the statement alone [Ram Singh v. State, AIR 1959 All 518].

Thus, admission is a genus whereas confession forms its species. [Siddheshwar Nath v. Emperor, AIR 1934 All 351] Confessions are dealt under Sections 24 to 30 of the IEA. Thus, the preliminary conditions as to what constitutes a relevant confession in criminal proceedings under S. 24 also extend to S. 30.

From a bare-reading of Section 30, the following essentials could be inferred:
  1. when more than one persons are being tried jointly
  2. the offence for which they are tried must be same
  3. there must be a confession made on by one of the person which admits the guilt of the other and,
  4. such a confession must be one that also implicates himself.
The use of word "consideration" in the title of this section, of the confession proved so to affect the person making it and others jointly under trial for the same offence as well as the words "the Court may take into consideration" within the section leads us to the inference that the Court has a wide discretionary power while dealing with such confessions as a piece of evidence against its maker as well as the co-accused. This article thus, examines the application of judicial mind through the following catena of Supreme Court decisions while weighing down the considerations of such confessions for the sake of its consequences.

Bhuboni Sahu v. The King, AIR 1949 PC 257

The appeal questioned the appellant's conviction based on evidence adduced. It comprised confession by a co-accused who had become an approver and another co-accused's confession, implicating himself and the appellant, before the Magistrate. Though relying on accomplices' uncorroborated testimonies is not illegal following S. 133 of the IEA, 1872, the Session and the High Courts, based on interpretation of the illustration (b) to S.114 of the IEA, 1872, found it as a rule of prudence to be unsafe to fasten conclusive value to the above-mentioned confessions to establish guilt of the appellant where further one was used to corroborate the approver's.

Thereon, the Courts accepted the circumstantial discovery of the deceased's cloth and the production of the khantibadi as sufficient independent corroboration in material particulars. The Privy Council dismissed the admissibility of the cloth and khantibadi as they were inconclusive to the fact in issue and as to the question of corroboration of approver's confession by another co-accused's confession, it said there is a high probability of collusion between the two.

Further, the PC stated that confessions under S.30 of the IEA, 1872, if self-exculpatory are to be excluded from admission, are deemed to be a very weak kind of evidence. Moreover, the term, 'may take into consideration', implies the confessions not being of a conclusive nature and leaves it at a Court's discretion as to how much weightage is to be attached to it. The Council upheld the prevailing view of the Indian High Courts then that confession against co-accused could be used solely in a corroborative capacity and not in basing of the conviction.

The Council further expressed consensus with the High Court on admissibility of the co-accused's confession as corroboration of the approver's story, highlighting the tendency of mixing the innocent with the accused. Henceforth, in the light of afore-stated reasons reached to the verdict that conviction of the appellant could not stand.

Kashmira Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1952 SC 159

The issue arose on the evidentiary value of confession against the co-accused under S. 30 of the IEA, 1872. The Court, citing Bhuboni Sahu v. King, AIR 1949 PC 257, Emperor v. Lalit Mohan Chuckerbutty, ILR 38 Cal 559 and In re Periyaswami Moopan, ILR 54 Mad 75, reiterated the observations made that it is quintessential to primarily gather sufficient evidence against the accused exclusive of co-accused's confession and scrutinize whether a conviction can be given based on it.

If the answer is in affirmative, then there is no mandate to take assistance of the confession made under S.30. In any circumstances, the Judge exercising discretion, enshrined under S.30, may take into consideration the confession of the co-accused irrespective of the immediately preceding observation. Such an aid is called to lend assurance to the evidence already adduced and fortify his judgment of the relevant contention.

The Court proceeded to examine evidence apart from the co-accused's confession on which the prosecution relied to prove their contention. No one evidence was capable of standing firmly as they lacked reasonableness. Consequently, the appeal was allowed and no conviction for the offence of murder was advanced.

Nathu v. State of Bihar, AIR 1956 SC 56

Again, the question of reliability on the confessions against the co-accused came upfront. The argument forwarded on behalf of the appellant consisted of contestation of evidence yielded through prosecution witness 13 and 15, confessions by two other co-accused against the appellant and Exhibit P-15 containing the appellant's confession.

Here, the evidence sought through P.W. 13 and 15 was corroboration of Exhibit P-15 on a material point. The Court held that the Exhibit P-15 was not voluntary given the circumstances thus appreciating the contentions conveyed on behalf of the appellant and proceeded without examining the evidence by P.W. 13 and 15 as it would be unnecessary.

Now, leading to the confessions of the co-accused against the appellant, the Court said that in absence of any independent and substantive evidence to base the conviction on, the confessions are of no consequence and should be kept out of consideration altogether. Further, the Court added that the confessions offered no corroboration to Exhibit P-15 as they were contradicting each other on the point of whether the appellant is the prime accused.

The Court, at last, concluded that there exists no reliable evidence based on which a conviction could be awarded to the appellant and thereby, the appeal was allowed and the appellant was set at liberty, keeping aside the sentence by the subordinate High Court.

Haricharan Kurmi v. State of Bihar, AIR 1964 SC 1184

Herein, the appeals questioning the admissibility of co-accused's confession against the appellants are referred to a Constitutional Bench. The Court stated that it is a conspicuous fact that such confession under S.30 does not form part and parcel of the term "Evidence" as defined under S.3. However, they do constitute part of evidence in a generic sense as whatever circumstances or probabilities taken into consideration by the Court of law to reach the decision becomes evidence.

Next, the Bench moves on to interpret the scope and effect of the term "may take into consideration", it held that the confessions against co-accused under S.30 do not amount to substantive piece of evidence and it stays at the discretion of solely the Court to take into account the said evidence merely to reassure itself of the inference it has drawn from other independent evidence.

Thus, agreeing with the views in Kashmira Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1952 SC 159, Bhuboni Sahu v. The King, AIR 1949 PC 257, stated the effect of S.30 that confession under the concerned provision cannot be the evidence to begin with, it has to come after scrutiny of other evidence adduced to lend reassurance as to reaffirm or counter the inferred conclusion.

The Bench, furthering on the effect, observed that on reading of S. 133 with illustration (b) to S.114, the evidence by an accomplice may be admissible as substantive piece of evidence by the Court which then according to rule of prudence, much amounting to Rule of Law, would proceed with the contemplation over whether the said evidence is materially corroborated.

Such testimony of an accomplice as a competent witness comes under the ambit of "Evidence" under S.3. Henceforth, the Bench concluded that the confession under S.30 stands on a different pedestal than the evidence under S.133.

Applying the interpretation to the present case, the Bench came to the conclusion that the other independent evidence did not possess a conclusive nature to bestow any conviction upon the appellants so subject of considering confession against co-accused cannot be brought to question. Henceforth, both the appellants were acquitted, setting aside the conviction and sentence and the appeal was permitted.

Kalpnath Rai v. State, (1997) 8 SCC 732

In an appeal against conviction through a trial based on the procedures incorporated under the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA), where three of the accused-appellants confessed, under S. 15 of the Act, against the fourth accused for "harbouring the terrorists", the Court deemed such confession as to be corroborated by further evidences, as is followed over confessions under S. 30 of IEA.

The Court based on previous decisions opined that it is a settled position of law that a confession made against a co-accused is not a substantive piece of evidence and requires corroboration. Thus, the Court upon examination of further evidence was not satisfied with the same giving a reason sufficient in order to take that confession into consideration and therefore the fourth accused was acquitted of the above charge.

State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu, (2005) 11 SCC 600

The case relates to a confession made on behalf of the co-accused under the specific provision of Section 15 of the TADA, its context being their role in the 2001 Parliament attack. Section 15 is examined in the light of Section 30 of the Evidence Act. Where the accused were charged with certain offences under TADA and one of the accused gave a joint confession, admissibility of such confession under Section 15 was placed in question before the Court. Section 15(1) is non-obstante to the Evidence Act and CrPC.

Section 15(1) requires that any confession made jointly by one of the accused before the police officer of a certain rank shall be admissible in the designated Court whereas Section 30 leaves room for the Court's discretion. Section 15 is thus said to be a departure from Sections 25 to 30 of the Evidence Act.

That being said, Section 15 does not imply departure from the normal rule of corroboration as is usually followed in cases under Section 30, even if the section does not obstruct such confession from forming the basis for conviction.

In conclusion, it can be said from the above cases that the position of the evidentiary value of a joint confession is well-settled, which is that of a supplementary or corroborative value. The Court, in no circumstances, can proceed with such confessions against the accused if no other independent evidence is of sufficient substantive value to form the base for an accused's confession.

As seen earlier, the confession under S.30 and an evidence under S. 133 read with illustration (b) to S.14 cannot be mixed up owing to the significant distinction of the nature they adhere to, though both are of a weak kind, former is a mere corroboration and the later is substantial.

Even in cases where a specific provision supersedes S. 30, in the above case the specific provision being S. 15 of TADA, the Courts have interpreted those in the light of S. 30. The legislative intent of the specific provision is considered supplemental to the IEA. The case of Kalpnath has stipulated three conditions for a confession to be admissible under S. 30, which are:
  1. there should be existence of a self-inculpatory statement that constitutes confession,
  2. the maker of the confession and the co-accused should be tried jointly for the same offence and
  3. the confession made by its maker should affect him as well as the co-accused.
Thus, the reasoning behind the Courts limiting the evidentiary value of S. 30, to the extent of the co-accused, to merely a corroborative one is to avoid the confession being made by its maker to prejudice the co-accused. Confessions are a type of evidence that an accused will not make in the ordinary course of human affairs, and thus the co-accused forms no exception.

End-Notes: Written By:
  1. Roshni Jaiswal - 4th year student, B.A.LLB. (Hons.) Course Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur
  2. Ms.Anushka Karlekar

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