The word ‘accomplice’ has not been properly defined under the Indian Evidence Act but it refers to a person who is a guilty associate and has either been convicted or has confessed his guilt in relation to a charge or a trial. An accomplice can also be a person who had made an admission that he had a conscious part to play in the commission of an offence.
There is no doubt that an accomplice is a competent witness according to the Indian Evidence Act. The question which usually arises with respect to the competency of an accomplice is his reliability as a witness.
The legality of evidentiary value of accomplice evidence is dealt with by two provisions: Section 133 and Section 114 illustration (b)
Section 133 states: ‘Accomplice.—An accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person; and a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.’
Section 114(b) states: ‘That an accomplice is unworthy of credit, unless he is corroborated in material particulars;’
As to illustration (b)—A, a person of the highest character, is tried for causing a man’s death by an act of negligence in arranging certain machinery. B, a person of equally good character, who also took part in the arrangement, describes precisely what was done, and admits and explains the common carelessness of A and himself;
As to illustration (b)—A crime is committed by several persons. A, B and C, three of the criminals, are captured on the spot and kept apart from each other. Each gives an account of the crime implicating D, and the accounts corroborate each other in such a manner as to render previous concert highly improbable;
These two provisions are complementary to each other. Analyzing the two provisions together leads to the conclusion that even though the accomplice is believed to be a competent witness and the conviction of the accused might lie lawfully on the uncorroborated testimony of the accomplice but still the courts are warranted to the presumption that no dependence can be placed on the evidence provided by an accomplice unless that particular evidence is corroborated.
It was in the case of Suresh Bahri v. State of Bihar AIR 1994 SC 2420 that the Apex Court upheld Section 133 authorising the conviction of an accused individual based on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. However, it was also mentioned that it is not astute to believe the testimony of an accomplice unless corroborated.
In Sitaram Rao v. State of Jharkhand AIR 2008 SC 391,it was held by the Supreme Court that conviction on the basis of accomplice’s evidence is not illegal or unlawful but the question of believing the credibility of the accomplice’s testimony is highly dependent on the Court’s perspective.
It is necessary that Section 133 be read with Section 114(b). The entire issue of the evidentiary value of accomplice’s evidence centers around corroboration. The possible reasons for the same can be:
- When the accomplice provides evidence to the State, he becomes an approver. It is likely that the accomplice might provide evidence, which might not be reliable to gain pardon.
- The accomplice, being a guilty associate and a criminal is an immoral individual. The testimony of such an individual should not hold as much importance as that of another competent witness since an accomplice is capable of being a liar.
For an approver’s evidence to be considered reliant and trustworthy, it has to satisfy a double test. First, the Court must be satisfied that his testimony is reliable and that there is the presence of evidence other than the statement of the accomplice/approver. Secondly, the approver’s statement must be corroborated and the evidence must be of such a nature that it connects or relates the accused to the crime.
The evidence provided by the approver differs from the other evidence presented in the case since the approver’s evidence is considered ab initio as open to a serious suspicion. If the suspicion is not removed then the evidence is not acted upon unless it has been properly corroborated.
In the case of Bhuboni Sahu v. Emperor AIR 1949 PC 257, it was held that it is not permitted for an accomplice to corroborate himself. Also, the evidence provided by one accomplice cannot be utilised to corroborate the testimony given by another accomplice.
It is not practically or logically possible to treat each and every accomplice in a particular case in the same way since the nature of the crime which was committed by them or the circumstances under which they provided their testimony differs and it is important to take them into consideration.
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