Abstract

The researcher has, in the present case-analysis tried to summarize the relevant facts pertaining to the case and discuss the applicable laws of evidence. Further, an attempt to read the laws of evidence with the judgment at hand is done, in addition to which a critical analysis of the relevant portion of the original judgment in light of the decisions relied upon while delivering it and the decisions which relied upon the original judgment is done to evaluate the impact of the judgment. 

Case Map

After the trial court and the High Court of Bombay ruled against the accused in the case, the matter came before the Hon’ble Supreme Court through a SLP under Article 136 of the Constitution of India against the judgment of a division bench of the Bombay High Court. The case pertains to the death of one Manju who was the wife of the main accused (Sharad Birdichand Sarda). The facts surrounding her death and evidences put forth paint a rough sketch of the events leading up to the unfortunate death. 

The deceased was in an unhappy marriage. She was depressed and sad about the ill-treatment she received by her in-laws and her husband. Even the court observed that she was a sensitive person and was depressed.  

The conviction awarded by the lower courts was based loosely on appreciating circumstantial evidence and by shifting the burden of proof on the accused. 

Rules of Evidence

Criminal proceedings reach a just and fair conclusion through the various facts put forth via the examination of witnesses and appreciation of evidence. The onus to prove guilt generally is on the prosecution, and in order to do so, the guilt must be established conclusively, and proved beyond reasonable doubt.[1]

In the current case two concepts pertaining to Law of Evidence are dealt, the two of them will be discussed in brief by the researcher before critically analysing the case in light of the two concepts.

1. Burden Of Proof

2. Circumstantial Evidence

Burden Of Proof

The Criminal Justice system in India provides for an evidence to be proved before a court of law in order to ascertain the guilt of the accused. Proving as per the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 as interpreted by several judicial pronouncements[2], the standard set provides the evidence to substantially prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. The burden of proof in a criminal case rests on the prosecution and not the defence.[3]

Circumstantial Evidence

In certain cases, it becomes very difficult to find direct evidences and the facts and evidences put forth in absence of directly associated evidences assist the courts to decide the matter conclusively. While these evidences are usually brought forward in cases where there is a dearth of primary evidence, circumstantial evidence is also put along with the general evidence to strengthen the case in general. The circumstantial evidences attempt to prove the core facts which go on to prove the contentions required for the completion of an offence.

The admissibility of circumstantial evidence is often debated in the legal community at lengths. Circumstantial evidences such as dying declarations, last seen appearances etc. are seen as evidences of last resort, or weak evidences.[4] These evidences are admissible only if they conclusively establish the line on which they proceed.[5] The circumstantial evidences should further also rule out any other probability of the chain of events that it establishes or seeks to establish.[6]

Critical Analysis of The Application of the Rules of Evidence in the case

The case of Sharad Birdichand is considered to be a landmark in the field of Law of Evidence. The case discusses in detail the treatment of circumstantial evidence in cases they are inconclusive, and while doing so, reiterates that the burden of proving entails the burden to prove conclusively and without any doubt. 

The judgment lays down the panchsheel test to examine circumstantial evidences in general. The test is extracted from para 153 of the judgment.[7]

The judgment discusses and deliberates upon the concept of burden of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt through a chain of events which must yield only one outcome, the one which proves the accused to be guilty.  The court laid down that the onus of proving the guilt rests on the prosecution, and the inability to defend oneself extensively should not be attributed to the accused is a negative manner.  The facts and the hypothesis should be in line and there should be apparent coherence between the two to be able to accept the circumstantial evidences against the accused. The sequence of the events must be such as to not leave any reasonable ground in favour of the innocence of the accused.  The judgment cited and reasoned 23 judgments to logically reach at the conclusion that a situation which offers two possible explanations should not be attributed to the accused to prove his guilt.[8]

Building upon the case and relying on the judgment several recent judgments have meted justice by holding that the weakness of the defence cannot cure the lacunae in the case of the prosecution. The judgment has been accorded a correct interpretation and innocent accused have been acquitted pursuant to the guidelines laid down in the case.[9]

The case has been reported regularly in the various judgments pertaining to evidence issues and has guided justice by treating a accused with dignity and fairness. The judgments following the precedent have kept the administration and the investigatory authorities on their feet, as it has been made clear to them that the weakness of the defence cannot automatically be factored into their favour. 

Conclusion

The laws of evidence in particular, and the applicability of the burden of proof to circumstantial evidences gives a broad understanding of the nature and function of the criminal justice system of the country. The current exercise helped the researcher analyse not just the case at hand but also the key postulates upon which the Law of Evidence relies.  The case had Mr. Jethmalani argue his way through one of his first big cases where he interpreted Laws of Evidence in a manner favorable to the accused. The factual matrix of the case was very well linked by both the advocates and the judges and the authorities cited provided a brief history lesson on the evolution of Laws of Evidence. The impact of the judgment is very significant to the criminal law development in the country even today, and the researcher is really thankful for being


[1] Krishan v. State, 2003 7 SCC 56.

[2] Shankarlal Gyarasilal Dixit v. State of Maharashtra, 1981CriLJ 325.

[3] Hanumant v. State of M.P, AIR 1952 SC 343.

[4] Rambraksh vs. State of Chhattisgarh, (2016) 12 SCC 251.

[5] Bodh Raj vs. State of Jammu and Kashmir AIR 2002 SC 316.

[6] M. G. Agarwal v. State of Maharashtra, 1963 2 SCR 405.

[7] Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra AIR 1984 SC 1622.

[8] M.G. Agarwal v. State, 1963 2 SCR 405.

9] Vijay Shah v. State of Delhi (NCT)., MANU/DE/4661/2018.

This article has been authored by Anurag Shankar Prasad.