Multiple dying declarations can be relied upon: SC

Apex court judges lay stress on consistency in statement

The Supreme Court has held that multiple dying declarations can be relied upon without corroboration if consistency is maintained throughout. Otherwise, the courts would have to examine the statement of other witnesses to ascertain the truth in a criminal trial.

A bench of Justices B S Chauhan and Dipak Misra clarified the legal position with regard to multiple dying declarations while acquitting a man charged for murdering his divorced wife.

The bench said: “In case of plural/multiple dying declarations, the court has to scrutinise the evidence cautiously and must find out whether there is consistency particularly in material particulars therein. In case there are inter-se discrepancies in the depositions of the witnesses given in support of one of the dying declarations, it would not be safe to rely upon the same.”  “In fact it is not the plurality of the dying declarations but the reliability thereof that adds weight to the prosecution case.

If the dying declaration is found to be voluntary, reliable and made in a fit mental condition, it can be relied upon without any corroboration. But the statements should be consistent throughout.”

The court was dealing with an appeal filed by Bhadragiri Venkata Ravi challenging the life term awarded to him by the Andhra Pradesh High Court (HC) in 2006. The HC had reversed a 2001 judgment by a sessions court acquitting him of the charges of killing his divorced wife Ratna Kumari.

Ratna, who died of burn injuries, recorded three dying declarations. The first two were recorded on April 15, 2000, at a government hospital in the presence of a magistrate wherein she told she had sustained injuries accidentally while cooking.

In the third dying declaration on April 28, 2000, she accused her former husband, who was on visiting terms with her even after eight years of divorce obtained on mutual consent, of pouring kerosene and setting her on fire.

“The trial court found material inconsistencies in the case of the prosecution and did not see any reason whatsoever to rely upon the dying declaration dated 28.4.2000 as the contents thereof were admittedly false and could not be relied upon,” the apex court said.

The HC failed to notice that the victim’s mother charged the appellant with demanding dowry, ill-treating and maintaining illicit relationship after eight years of divorce, the bench noted.

“Admittedly, there was a divorce between the parties. Therefore, the question of demand of dowry or ill-treatment or harassment could not arise after 8 years of divorce decree by the court.

The mother of Ratna has deposed about the illicit relationship of the appellant and another woman and the appellant wanted to marry that woman. In case the parties had separated by a divorce through court, we fail to understand how Ratna (deceased) or her parents were concerned about such a relationship,” the bench said.

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