An extra-judicial confession can form the basis of a conviction if it is proved that the witness before whom it is made is fair and unbiased, the Supreme Court has ruled.
Setting aside a Bombay High Court verdict, a division bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and DK Jain has asked trial courts to proceed "cautiously" and ascertain the veracity of witnesses who claim to have heard the confessional statement.
"While dealing with a stand of extra-judicial confession, the court has to satisfy that the same was voluntary and without any coercion and undue influence. Where there is material to show animosity, court has to proceed cautiously," the bench said.
Extra-judicial confession is admission of guilt not made before a police officer. Since it is not made in judicial custody, such a statement, whether oral or written, is admissible as evidence in a criminal case.
Observing that "human mind is not a tape recorder," the court said word by word repetition of the confession by a witness was not required.
"If substance itself is sufficient to prove the culpability and there is no ambiguity about the statement, evidence can be acted upon," it said. The courts should first judge the credibility of the witness and then decide whether its evidence can be accepted or not, it added.
The order came on an appeal by one Ajay Singh of Nagpur, who was held guilty of murdering his wife. The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court upheld the trial court’s order convicting him of burning his wife alive on April 29, 2003.
Both the courts had based their findings on the extra-judicial confessions, which Singh apparently made before a neighbour couple. However, the judgments discarded the evidence of another prosecution witness whose evidence regarding the extra-judicial confession varied from that of the couple.
Reversing the high court verdict, the Supreme Court doubted the veracity of the couple’s testimony because they had animosity with the accused. Singh had contended that he had objected to the man who allegedly used to peep into the bathroom while the accused’s wife took a bath.