Legal Blog: Trustworthy Evidence : The Doctrine of Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Trustworthy Evidence : The Doctrine of Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus

Justice B.S. Chauhan of the Supreme Court has recently dealt with the maxim 'Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus', and held that the said maxim is not applicable to India. The maxim underlines the principle that where one part of the statement of a witness is found to be false, then the entire testimony of the witness is liable to be rejected. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has observed as under:
Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus:
10. In Balaka Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1975 SC 1962, this Court observed as under:-
"It is true that, as laid down by this Court in Zwinglee Ariel v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1954 SC 15, and other cases which have followed that case, the Court must make an attempt to separate grain from the chaff, the truth from the falsehood, yet this could only be possible when the truth is separable from the falsehood. Where the grain cannot be separated from the chaff because the grain and the chaff are so inextricably mixed up that in the process of separation the Court would have to reconstruct an absolutely new case for the prosecution by divorcing the essential details presented by the prosecution completely from the context and the background against which they are made, then this principle will not apply."
11. In Ugar Ahir & Ors. v. State of Bihar, AIR 1965 SC 277, this Court held as under:-
" The maxim falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in every thing) is neither a sound rule of law nor a rule of practice. Hardly one comes across a witness whose evidence does not contain a grain of untruth or at any rate exaggerations, embroideries or embellishments. It is, therefore, the duty of the court to scrutinise the evidence carefully and, in terms of the felicitous metaphor, separate the grain from the chaff. But, it cannot obviously disbelieve the substratum of the prosecution case or the material parts of the evidence and reconstruct a story of its own out of the rest."
12. A similar view was taken in Nathu Singh Yadav v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (2002) 10 SCC 366.
13. The maxim has been explained by this Court in Jakki @ Selvaraj & Anr. v. State represented by the IP, Coimbatore, (2007) 9 SCC 589, observing:-
"The maxim falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus has not received general acceptance nor has this maxim come to occupy the status of rule of law. It is merely a rule of caution. All that it amounts to is, that in such cases testimony may be disregarded, and not that it must be discarded. The doctrine merely involves the question of weight of evidence which a court may apply in a given set of circumstances, but it is not what may be called `a mandatory rule of evidence'."
14. It is well settled in law that the maxim falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one false in all) does not apply in criminal cases in India, as a witness may be partly truthful and partly false in the evidence he gives to the Court. (Vide: Kulwinder Singh v. State of Punjab, (2007) 10 SCC 455; Ganesh v. State of Karnataka, (2008) 17 SCC 152; Jayaseelan v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2009) 12 SCC 275; Mani @ Udattu Man & Ors. v. State represented by Inspector of Police, (2009) 12 SCC 288; and Balraje @ Trimbak v. State of Maharashtra, (2010) 6 SCC 673).
15. This position of law has been reiterated by this Court in Prem Singh & Ors. v. State of Haryana, (2009) 14 SCC 494, wherein the Court clearly held as under:
"It is now a well-settled principle of law that the doctrine "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" has no application in India."
16. In view of the above, the law can be summarised to the effect that the aforesaid legal maxim is not applicable in India and the court has to assess to what extent the deposition of a witness can be relied upon. The court has to separate the falsehood from the truth and it is only in exceptional circumstances when it is not possible to separate the grain from the chaff because they are inextricably mixed up, that the whole evidence of such a witness can be discarded. Number of witnesses required to prove the offence by members of a large unlawful assembly:
17. This question has been definitively dealt with by a Constitution Bench of this Court in Masalti v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1965 SC 202, wherein the Court observed as under: "... under the Indian Evidence Act, trustworthy evidence given by a single witness would be enough to convict an accused person, whereas evidence given by half a dozen witnesses which is not trustworthy would not be enough to sustain the conviction. That, no doubt is true; but where a criminal court has to deal with evidence pertaining to the commission of an offence involving a large number of offenders and a large number of victims, it is usual to adopt the test that the conviction could be sustained only if it is supported by two or three or more witnesses who give a consistent account of the incident. In a sense, the test may be described as mechanical; but it is difficult to see how it can be treated as irrational or unreasonable."
(Emphasis added)
18. In Muthu Naicker & Ors. v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1978 SC 1647, this Court explained the aforesaid judgment by stating that in a situation where a witness has been attacked by the members of an unlawful assembly composed of a large number of persons, the court should carefully consider the question of the credibility of such a witness. Where the court is of the view that the testimony of such a witness is in the facts and circumstances of the case not reliable, it should insist that such testimony be corroborated by one or more other witness before it can be accepted by the court.
19. A similar view has also been taken by this Court in Binay Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR1997 SC 322, wherein the Court has held:-
"There is no rule of evidence that no conviction can be based unless a certain minimum number of witnesses have identified a particular accused as a member of the unlawful assembly. It is axiomatic that evidence is not to be counted but only weighed and it is not the quantity of evidence but the quality that matters. Even the testimony of one single witness, if wholly reliable, is sufficient to establish the identification of an accused as a member of an unlawful assembly. All the same, when the size of the unlawful assembly is quite large (as in this case) and many persons would have witnessed the incident, it would be a prudent exercise to insist on at least two reliable witnesses to vouchsafe the identification of an accused as a participant in the rioting."
(Emphasis added)
20. Similarly, in Kamaksha Rai & Ors. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (1999) 8 SCC 701, this Court observed: "Taking into consideration the nature of attack and the possibility or otherwise of the identification of these accused persons by the prosecution witnesses and bearing in mind the principles laid down by this Court in the above- cited judgments, we are of the opinion that it is not safe to rely on the evidence of witnesses who speak generally and in an omnibus way without specific reference to the identity of the individuals and their specific overt acts in regard to the incident ..."
(Emphasis added)
Consequently, the Court took the view that in the facts and circumstances of the case, as a lot of witnesses had referred to the accused in a vague and general manner rather than making specific reference to the identity of the individuals and their specific overt acts in the incident, prudence dictated that it was necessary to fix a minimum number of witnesses needed to accept the prosecution case to base a conviction.
21. A similar view has been reiterated by this Court in Chandra Shekhar Bind & Ors. v. State of Bihar, (2001) 8 SCC 690.
22. Thus, from the above, the law on the issue remains that in a case involving an unlawful assembly with a very large number of persons, there is no rule of law that states that there cannot be any conviction on the testimony of a sole eye-witness, unless that the court is of the view that the testimony of such sole eye-witness is not reliable. Though, generally it is a rule of prudence followed by the courts that a conviction may not be sustained if it is not supported by two or more witnesses who give a consistent account of the incident in a fit case the court may believe a reliable sole eye-witness if in his testimony he makes specific reference to the identity of the individual and his specific overt acts in the incident. 
Find the Entire Judgment here.

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