Single Eye-Witness; Evidenciary Value & 7 Top Supreme Court Cases

The legal position in respect of the testimony of a solitary / single eye-witness is well settled in a catena of judgments inasmuch as the Apex Court has always reminded that in order to pass conviction upon it, such a testimony must be of a nature which inspires the confidence of the Court.

While looking into such evidence the Apex Court has always advocated the Rule of Caution and such corroboration from other evidence and even in the absence of corroboration if testimony of such single eye-witness inspires confidence then conviction can be based solely upon it.

The test for relying on the testimony of a sole eye-witness is based on the rule of caution, expounded by the Supreme Court of India in a catena of judgments. These are the following judgments:

Supreme Court on Single Eye-Witness

1. Joseph vs. State of Kerala, (2003) 1 SCC 465

  • The evidence of other witnesses must corroborate the single eye-witness.
  • When there is a sole witness to the incident his evidence has to be accepted with an amount of caution and after testing it on the touchstone of the evidence tendered by other witnesses or evidence as recorded.
  • Section 134 of the Indian Evidence Act provides that no particular number of witnesses shall in any case be required for the proof of any fact and, therefore, it is permissible for a court to record and sustain a conviction on the evidence of a solitary eyewitness.
  • But, at the same time, such a course can be adopted only if the evidence tendered by such witness is cogent, reliable and in tune with probabilities and inspires implicit confidence.
  • By this standard, when the prosecution case rests mainly on the sole testimony of an eyewitness, it should be wholly reliable.

2. Suresh Chaudhary vs. State of Bihar, (2003) 4 SCC 128

In the above case, this Court while setting aside the sentence of conviction of two Courts below advocated the Rule of Caution.

3. Shahbuddin Abdul Kahlik Shaikh vs. State of Gujarat, 1995 Supp (2) SCC 441

The Rule of Caution has also been advocated by Apex Court.

4. Anil Phukan v. State of Assam reported in (1993) 3 SCC 282

  • Indeed, conviction can be based on the testimony of a single eye-witness and there is no rule of law or evidence which says to the contrary provided the sole witness passes the test of reliability.
  • So long as the single eye-witness is a wholly reliable witness the courts have no difficulty in basing conviction on his testimony alone.
  • However, where the single eye-witness is not found to be a wholly reliable witness, in the sense that there are some circumstances which may show that he could have an interest in the prosecution, then the courts generally insist upon some independent corroboration of his testimony, in material particulars, before recording conviction.
  • It is only when the courts find that the single eye-witness is a wholly unreliable witness that his testimony is discarded in to and no amount of corroboration can cure that defect.

5. Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade and Anr. vs. State of Maharashtra (1973) 2 SCC 793

  • Even if the case against the accused hangs on the evidence of a single eye-witness it may be enough to sustain the conviction given sterling testimony of a competent, honest man, although as a rule of prudence courts call for corroboration.
  • It is a platitude to say that witnesses have to be weighed and not counted since quality matters more than quantity in human affairs.

6. Vadivelu Thevar etc. vs. The State of Madras etc., AIR 1957 SC 614

Apex Court has divided the appreciation of evidence into three categories, namely:

(1) wholly reliable;

(2) wholly unreliable; and

(3) Neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable

and thereafter stated that ‘it becomes the duty of the court to convict, if it is satisfied that the testimony of a single witness is entirely reliable’.

7. Mohamed Sugal Esa vs. The King, AIR 1946 PC 3

  • In England where provision has been made for the reception of unsworn evidence from a child it has always been provided that the evidence must be corroborated in some material particular implicating the accused.
  • But in the Indian Act there is no such provision and the evidence is made admissible whether corroborated or not.
  • Once there is admissible evidence a Court can act upon it; corroboration, unless required by statute, goes only to the weight and value of the evidence.
  • It is a sound rule in practice not to act on the uncorroborated evidence of a child, whether sworn or unsworn, but this is a rule of prudence and not of law.

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