Pulukuri Kottaya v. Emperor [1947 PC]

Sir John Beaumont

This is an appeal by special leave against the judgment and order of the High Court of Judicature at Madras, dated October 22, 1945, dismissing an appeal against the judgment and order of the Court of Sessions, dated August 2, 1945.

The offence charged was of a type common in many parts of India in which there are factions in a village, and the members of one faction are assaulted by members of the other faction and, in the prosecution which results, the Crown witnesses belong to the party hostile to the accused; which involves that their evidence requires very careful scrutiny.

The question which involves construction of S.27 of the Indian Evidence Act will now be considered.

Section 27, which is not artistically worded, provides an exception to the prohibition imposed by the preceding section, and enables certain statements made by a person in Police custody to be proved. The condition necessary to bring the section into operation is that the discovery of a fact in consequence of information received from a person accused of any offence in the custody of a Police Officer must be deposed to, and thereupon so much of the information as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered may be proved.

The section seems to be based on the view that if a fact is actually discovered in consequence of information given, some guarantee is afforded thereby that the information was true, and accordingly, can be safely allowed to be given in evidence; but 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. Normally the section is brought into operation when a person in Police custody produces from some place of concealment some object, such as a dead body, a weapon, or ornaments, said to be connected with the crime of which the informant is accused.

Mr. Megaw, for the Crown, has argued that in such a case the “fact discovered” is the physical object produced, and that any information which relates distinctly to that object can be proved. Upon this view information given by a person that the body produced is that of a person murdered by him, that the weapon produced is the one used by him in the commission of a murder or that the ornaments produced were stolen in a dacoity would all be admissible. If this be the effect of S. 27, little substance would remain in the ban imposed by the two preceding sections on confessions made to the Police or by persons in Police custody.

That ban 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. But 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.

On normal principles of construction their Lordships think that the proviso to S. 26, added by S. 27, should not be held to nullify the substance of the section. In their Lordships’ view, it is fallacious to treat the “fact discovered” within the section as equivalent to the object produced; the fact discovered embraces the place from which the object is produced and the knowledge of the accused as to this, and the information given must relate distinctly to this fact. Information as to past user or the past history of the object produced is not related to its discovery in the setting in which it is discovered.

Information supplied by a person in custody that “I will produce a knife concealed in the roof of my house” does not lead to the discovery of a knife; knives were discovered many years ago. It leads to the discovery of the fact that a knife is concealed in the house of the informant to his knowledge, and if the knife is proved to have been used in the commission of the offence, the fact discovered is very relevant. But if to the statement the words be added “with which I stabbed A”, these words are inadmissible since they do not relate to the discovery of the knife in the house of the informant.

The difficulty, however great, of proving that a fact discovered on information supplied by the accused is a relevant fact can afford no justification for reading into S. 27 something which is not there, and admitting in evidence a confession barred by S. 26. Except in cases in which the possession or concealment of an object constitutes the gist of the offence charged, it can seldom happen that information relating to the discovery of a fact forms the foundation of the prosecution case. It is only one link in the chain of proof and the other links must be forged in manner allowed by law.

Statement made by accused Inala Sydayya on being arrested.

“About 14 days ago, I Kotayya and people of my party lay in wait for Sivayya and others at about sunset time at the corner of Pulipad tank. We all beat Boddupati China Sivayya and Subayya to death. The remaining persons, Pullayya, Kotayya and Narayana ran away. Dondapati Ramayya who was in our party received blows on his hands. He had a spear in his hands. He gave it to me then. I hid it and my stick in the rick of Venkatanarasu in the village, I will show if you come. We did all this at instigation of Pulukuri Kotayya”.

The whole of that statement except the passage “I hid it (a spear) and my stick in the rick of Venkatanarasu in the village, I will show if you come” is inadmissible.

A confession of accused No. 3 was deposed to by the Police Sub-Inspector, who said that accused No. 3 said to him:-

“I stabbed Sivayya with a spear. I hid the spear in a yard in my village. I will show you the place.”

The first sentence must be omitted.

The position therefore, is that in this case evidence has been admitted which ought not to have been admitted, and the duty of the Court in such circumstances is stated in S. 167 of the Indian Evidence Act. It was therefore, the duty of the High Court in appeal to apply its mind to the question whether, after discarding the evidence improperly admitted, there was left sufficient to justify the convictions. The Judges of the High Court did not apply their minds to this question because they considered that the evidence was properly admitted, and their Lordships propose therefore, to remit the case to the High Court of Madras, with directions to consider this question.

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