The Supreme Court on Friday said that extra-judicial confession allegedly made by the co-accused loses its significance in absence of any substantive evidence against the accused and there cannot be any conviction based on such confession.
The apex court said that an extra-judicial confession attains “greater credibility and evidentiary value” if it is supported by a chain of cogent circumstances and is further corroborated by other prosecution evidence.
The top court observed that an accused “must be” and not merely “may be” guilty before a court can convict him and the conclusions of guilt arrived at must be sure conclusions and must not be based on vague conjectures.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Bela M Trivedi acquitted an accused, who had challenged the Chhattisgarh High Court judgement confirming his conviction and life term imposed upon him by a trial court for the alleged offence of murder, and directed that he be set free forthwith.
“In absence of any substantive evidence against the accused, the extra-judicial confession allegedly made by the co-accused loses its significance and there cannot be any conviction based on such extra-judicial confession of the co-accused,” the bench said in its judgement.
It noted that the apex court has consistently held that an extra-judicial confession is a weak kind of evidence and unless it inspires confidence or is fully corroborated by some other evidence of clinching nature, ordinarily conviction for the offence of murder should not be made only on the evidence of extra-judicial confession.
It said that the entire chain of circumstances, on which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn, should be fully established and should not leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused.
The apex court delivered its verdict on an appeal against the judgement of the high court.
According to the prosecution, a woman and a man were in a love affair, which the father and uncle of the woman did not approve of.
In December 1994, both the man and woman went missing and a few days later, their bodies were found hanging on a tree.
The bench noted that in both the post-mortem reports, it was stated that death had occurred within 8 to 10 days and the nature of the death was suicidal.
As per the prosecution, on December 2, 1994, the accused, who was the appellant before the apex court, had called the victim and taken him to his house where another co-accused murdered him, and later, two of the other co-accused killed the woman.
The trial court had framed charges against four accused and in August 1998, acquitted them of the charges levelled under section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The trial court, however, found them guilty of the offences including under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code and they were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Later, these accused preferred appeals in the high court against the trial court verdict. The high court confirmed the conviction and sentence imposed on accused Chandrapal for the alleged offences, including under section 302 of the IPC.
The high court, which set aside the conviction and sentence imposed on the other three accused of the alleged offence of murder, confirmed their conviction for other offences and sentenced them to the period already undergone.
Chandrapal then approached the apex court against the high court verdict.
The top court noted that for the purpose of proving the charge of the offence under section 302 of the IPC, the prosecution must establish “homicidal death” as a primary fact.
It observed that when the prosecution’s case rested on circumstantial evidence, it was imperative for the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the deaths were homicidal deaths and not suicidal, more particularly when the line of defence of the accused was that the man and the woman had committed suicide and the post-mortem reports also opined that nature of their deaths was suicidal.
Referring to an earlier verdict, the bench said it was held that extra-judicial confession made by the co-accused could be admitted in evidence only as a corroborative piece of evidence.
It noted that one of the co-accused had allegedly made an extra-judicial confession before some of the prosecution witnesses that the other three accused had committed the crime.
The bench noted that the high court, considering the inconsistency between the said two extra-judicial confessions made by the co-accused, did not find it safe to convict the other three accused, but “surprisingly considered” the said extra-judicial confession as an incriminating circumstance against the appellant for convicting him.
The top court said if such a weak piece of evidence of the co-accused was not duly proved or found trustworthy for holding the other co-accused guilty of committing murder, the high court could not have used it against the appellant for holding him guilty.
“If the evidence of prosecution falls short of proof of homicidal death of the deceased, and if the possibility of suicidal death could not be ruled out, in the opinion of this court, the appellant-accused could not have been convicted merely on the basis of the theory of ‘last seen together,” the bench said, adding, “The suspicion howsoever strong cannot take place of proof.” The bench allowed the appeal filed by the appellant and acquitted him of the charges levelled against him.