Before analysing factual aspects it may be stated that for a crime to be proved it is not necessary that the crime must be seen to have been committed and must, in all circumstances be proved by direct ocular evidence by examining before the court those persons who had seen its commission. The offence can be proved by circumstantial evidence also. The principal fact or factum probandum may be proved indirectly by means of certain inferences drawn from factum probans, that is, the evidentiary facts. To put it differently, circumstantial evidence is not direct to the point in issue but consists of evidence of various other facts which are so closely associated with the fact in issue that taken together they form a chain of circumstances from which the existence of the principal fact can be legally inferred or presumed.
It has been consistently laid down by this Court that where a case rests squarely on circumstantial evidence, the inference of guilt can be justified only when all the incriminating facts and circumstances are found to be incompatible with the innocence of the accused or the guilt of any other person.
The circumstances from which an inference as to the guilt of the accused is drawn have to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and have to be shown to be closely connected with the principal fact sought to be inferred from those circumstances.
In Bhagat Ram v. State of Punjab [1954 SC], it was laid down that where the case depends upon the conclusion drawn from circumstances the cumulative effect of the circumstances must be such as to negative the innocence of the accused and bring home the offences beyond any reasonable doubt.
In Padala Veera Reddy v. State of A.P. [1990 SC], it was laid down that when a case rests upon circumstantial evidence, such evidence must satisfy the following tests:
- “the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn, must be cogently and firmly established;
- those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards guilt of the accused;
- the circumstances, taken cumulatively, should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and none else; and
- the circumstantial evidence in order to sustain conviction must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of guilt of the accused and such evidence should not only be consistent with the guilt of the accused but should be inconsistent with his innocence.”
A reference may be made to a later decision in Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra [AIR 1984 SC 1622]. Therein, while dealing with circumstantial evidence, it has been held that the onus was on the prosecution to prove that the chain is complete and the infirmity of lacuna in the prosecution cannot be cured by a false defence or plea. The conditions precedent in the words of this Court, before conviction could be based on circumstantial evidence, must be fully established. They are:
- the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should be fully established. The circumstances concerned must or should and not may be established;
- the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused, that is to say, they should not be explainable on any other hypothesis except that the accused is guilty;
- the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency;
- they should exclude every possible hypothesis except the one to be proved; and
- there must be a chain of evidence so complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and must show that in all human probability the act must have been done by the accused.
Emphasis was laid as a circumstance on recovery of weapon of assault, on the basis of information given by the accused while in custody. The question is whether the evidence relating to recovery is sufficient to fasten guilt on the accused.
Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is by way of proviso to Sections 25 to 26 and a statement even by way of confession made in police custody which distinctly relates to the fact discovered is admissible in evidence against the accused. The words “so much of such information” as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered, are very important and the whole force of the section concentrates on them. Clearly the extent of the information admissible must depend on the exact nature of the fact discovered to which such information is required to relate.
The ban as imposed by the preceding sections was presumably inspired by the fear of the legislature that a person under police influence might be induced to confess by the exercise of undue pressure. If all that is required to lift the ban be the inclusion in the confession of information relating to an object subsequently produced, it seems reasonable to suppose that the persuasive powers of the police will prove equal to the occasion, and that in practice the ban will lose its effect.
The object of the provision, i.e., Section 27 was to provide for the admission of evidence which but for the existence of the section could not in consequence of the preceding sections, be admitted in evidence. It would appear that under Section 27 as it stands in order to render the evidence leading to discovery of any fact admissible, the information must come from any accused in custody of the police. The requirement of police custody is productive of extremely anomalous results and may lead to the exclusion of much valuable evidence in cases where a person, who is subsequently taken into custody and becomes an accused, after committing a crime meets a police officer or voluntarily goes to him or to the police station and states the circumstances of the crime which lead to the discovery of the dead body, weapon or any other material fact, in consequence of the information thus received from him. This information which is otherwise admissible becomes inadmissible under Section 27 if the information did not come from a person in the custody of a police officer or did come from a person not in the custody of a police officer.
The statement which is admissible under Section 27 is the one which is the information leading to discovery. Thus, what is admissible being the information, the same has to be proved and not the opinion formed on it by the police officer. In other words, the exact information given by the accused while in custody which led to recovery of the articles has to be proved. It is, therefore, necessary for the benefit of both the accused and the prosecution that information given should be recorded and proved and if not so recorded, the exact information must be adduced through evidence.
The basic idea embedded in Section 27 of the Evidence Act is the doctrine of confirmation by subsequent events. The doctrine is founded on the principle that if any fact is discovered as a search made on the strength of any information obtained from a prisoner, such a discovery is a guarantee that the information supplied by the prisoner is true. The information might be confessional or non-inculpatory in nature but if it results in discovery of a fact, it becomes a reliable information. It is now well settled that recovery of an object is not discovery of fact envisaged in the section. Decision of the Privy Council in Pulukuri Kottaya v. Emperor [1947 PC], is the most-quoted authority for supporting the interpretation that the “fact discovered” envisaged in the section embraces the place from which the object was produced, the knowledge of the accused as to it, but the information given must relate distinctly to that effect.
No doubt, the information permitted to be admitted in evidence is confined to that portion of the information which “distinctly relates to the fact thereby discovered”. But the information to get admissibility need not be so truncated as to make it insensible or incomprehensible. The extent of information admitted should be consistent with understandability. Mere statement that the accused led the police and the witnesses to the place where he had concealed the articles is not indicative of the information given.