The admissibility of dying declarations has been debated for long and the Bombay high court seems to have added another chapter to the issue, holding that it is unsafe to base a conviction solely on a dying declaration.
"Though a dying declaration is admitted in evidence primarily on the ground of necessity, it has to be recognised that it is a violent exception to several fundamental rules of the law of evidence," the court said on December 7. The observation of the division bench came as it set aside the life sentence awarded to four persons by a Nashik sessions judge for the murder of a woman by setting her on fire.
The bench of justice VM Kanade and justice AM Thipsay also cited judgments, which state that dying declaration needs close scrutiny during trial.
The court acquitted Maruti Ginjal, his wife Nirmala, his mother Malanbai and neighbour Sankhubai Shinde of the charge of having murdered Sangita Deore.
According to the prosecution, on October 5, 2002, Ginjal had tried to rape Deore. On hearing her cries, Nirmala and Malanbai had arrived at the spot and threatened to kill her after accusing her of having an affair with Ginjal. Shinde too arrived and instigated the others to kill her. Deore was then dragged into her house, doused in kerosene and set ablaze. Deore's sister-in-law Lilabai rushed in to help and she narrated the sequence of events.
Deore and the accused were taken to a police station and later she was admitted to a hospital, where she died on October 16. The prosecution had relied solely on Deore's dying declaration communicated to Lilabai, the investigating officer (police) and a magistrate.
Hearing the appeal of the accused, the high court had held, "Strictly speaking, there is no legal obligation on the declarant to speak the truth."