|Justice P. Sathasivam|
Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court in Surinder Kumar Vs. State of Haryana has discussed the law relating to the evidentiary value of a dying declaration and whether such a piece of evidence can be the sole factor for convicting an accused. The Court has referred and relied on a number of judicial precedents and summed up the legal position as under;
6. Before considering the acceptability of dying declaration (Ex.PD), it would be useful to refer the legal position.
(i) In Sham Shankar Kankaria vs. State of Maharashtra, (2006) 13 SCC 165, this Court held as under:
"10. This is a case where the basis of conviction of the accused is the dying declaration. The situation in which a person is on deathbed is so solemn and serene when he is dying that the grave position in which he is placed, is the reason in law to accept veracity of his statement. It is for this reason the requirements of oath and cross-examination are dispensed with. Besides, should the dying declaration be excluded it will result in miscarriage of justice because the victim being generally the only eyewitness in a serious crime, the exclusion of the statement would leave the court without a scrap of evidence.
11. Though a dying declaration is entitled to great weight, it is worthwhile to note that the accused has no power of cross-examination. Such a power is essential for eliciting the truth as an obligation of oath could be. This is the reason the court also insists that the dying declaration should be of such a nature as to inspire full confidence of the court in its correctness. The court has to be on guard that the statement of deceased was not as a result of either tutoring or prompting or a product of imagination. The court must be further satisfied that the deceased was in a fit state of mind after a clear opportunity to observe and identify the assailant. Once the court is satisfied that the declaration was true and voluntary, undoubtedly, it can base its conviction without any further corroboration. It cannot be laid down as an absolute rule of law that the dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of conviction unless it is corroborated. The rule requiring corroboration is merely a rule of prudence. This Court has laid down in several judgments the principles governing dying declaration, which c ould be summed up as under as indicated in Paniben v. State of Gujarat (1992) 2 SCC 474 (SCC pp.480 -8 1, para 18)
(i) There is neither rule of law nor of prudence that dying declaration cannot be acted upon without corroboration. (See Munnu Raja v. State of M.P.,(1976) 3 SCC 104)
(ii) If the Court is satisfied that the dying declaration is true and voluntary it can base conviction on it, without corroboration. (See State of U.P. v. Ram Sagar Yadav, (1985) 1 SCC 552 and Ramawati Devi v. State of Bihar,(1983) 1 SCC 211)
(iii) The Court has to scrutinise the dying declaration carefully and must ensure that the declaration is not the result of tutoring, prompting or imagination. The deceased had an opportunity to observe and identify the assailants and was in a fit state to make the declaration. (See K. Ramachandra Reddy v. Public Prosecutor, (1976) 3 SCC 618)
(iv) Where dying declaration is suspicious, it should not be acted upon without corroborative evidence. (See Rasheed Beg v. State of M.P.,(1974) 4 SCC 264)
(v) Where the deceased was unconscious and could never make any dying declaration the evidence with regard to it is to be rejected. (See Kake Singh v. State of M.P., 1981 Supp SCC 25)
(vi) A dying declaration which suffers from infirmity cannot form the basis of conviction. (See Ram Manorath v. State of U.P.,(1981) 2 SCC 654)
(vii) Merely because a dying declaration does contain the details as to the occurrence, it is not to be rejected. (See State of Maharashtra v. Krishnamurti Laxmipati Naidu, 1980 Supp SCC 455)
(viii) Equally, merely because it is a brief statement, it is not to be discarded. On the contrary, the shortness of the statement itself guarantees truth. (See Surajdeo Ojha v. State of Bihar,1980 Supp SCC 769)
(ix) Normally the court in order to satisfy whether the deceased was in a fit mental condition to make the dying declaration look up to the medical opinion. But where the eyewitness has said that the deceased was in a fit and conscious state to make the dying declaration, the medical opinion cannot prevail. (See Nanhau Ram v. State of M.P.,1988 Supp SCC 152)
(x) Where the prosecution version differs from the version as given in the dying declaration, the said declaration cannot be acted upon. (See State of U.P. v. Madan Mohan, (1989) 3 SCC 390)
(xi) Where there are more than one statement in the nature of dying declaration, one first in point of time must be preferred. Of course, if the plurality of dying declaration could be held to be trustworthy and reliable, it has to be accepted. (See Mohanlal Gangaram Gehani v. State of Maharashtra, (1982) 1 SCC 700)"
(ii) In Puran Chand vs. State of Haryana, (2010) 6 SCC 566, this Court once again reiterated the abovementioned principles.
(iii) In Panneerselvam vs. State of Tamil Nadu, (2008) 17 SCC 190, a Bench of three Judges of this Court reiterating various principles mentioned above held that it cannot be laid down as an absolute rule of law that the dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of the conviction unless it is corroborated and the rule requiring corroboration is merely a rule of prudence.