Evidence is one of the most important part of every trial. Evidence can be in the witness testimony, any relevant document or any other thing.
There is a general rule that whenever a person called to give evidence in the Court, he must state give his testimony in the form of answers to the questions that are asked to him and he must give his opinion. However, there are certain circumstances where the Court may require an opinion of a person who has skills, knowledge and practical experience in a particular field. Such witness or person is called an expert. Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act deals with the provisions related to expert witnesses. This section is an exception to the above stated general rule.
Section 45: Opinions of experts — When the Court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law, or of science or art, or as to identity of handwriting or finger impressions, the opinions upon that point of persons specially skilled in such foreign law, science or art, or in questions as to identity of handwriting or finger impressions are relevant facts.
Such persons are called experts.
WHO IS AN EXPERT?
In Ramesh Chandra Agarwal v. Regency Hospital Ltd, the Court held that an ‘expert’ witness is one who has devoted time and study to a special branch of learning and thus is specially skilled on those points on which he is asked to give his opinion.
According to Section 45 of this Act, an expert is any person who has knowledge, skills and experience in –
- Foreign law
- Finger impressions
The Evidence Act does not lay down any specific qualification for an expert. Any person who has specific knowledge and practical know-how of any profession, trade, art or science can be considered an expert. It is the discretion of the Court to decide whether a witness is competent as an expert or not.
MS Reddy v. State Inspector of Police ABC, Nellore- In this case the Court held that, in case of alleged fraud committed by the Officers of the Irrigation Department in the work related to jungle clearance, an engineer working in the same department could not be said to be an expert based on specific knowledge or experience that is acquired by him during this service.
ROLE OF AN EXPERT OPINION
The role of an expert as witness is only to his opinion on a specific matter. He is not to act as jury or judge. Expert’s role is only to aid the Court to arrive at a conclusion. The Court is not bound by the advice of the expert. Court does not become functus officio because of an expert’s opinion. It is the discretion of the Court whether to accept the opinion of the expert or not.
The Calcutta High Court stated that the duty of an expert is to depose and not to decide.
In Dayal Singh v. State of Uttarakhand, the Apex Court laid down some guiding principles regarding expert opinion. These principles are :
- The purpose of an expert’s opinion is merely to assist the Court. This opinion is not binding on the Court.
- An expert’s opinion must be looked at like any other evidence. The Court should not set aside its own judgment merely on the basis on the opinion of an expert. His evidence must be assessed like any other evidence.
- In case an eyewitnesses accounts is found to be credible and trustworthy, an expert’s contrary evidence may not be accepted as conclusive.
- If there is any variation in the evidence like exhibits, ocular or medical evidence that such variation is serious in nature that it may obstruct the course of justice, then these variations in the evidence cannot be ruled out.
SCIENCE OR ART:
“The words ‘science’ or ‘art’ are to be broadly constructed, the term ‘science’ not being limited to higher sciences, and the term ‘art’ not being limited to fine arts but having its original sense of handicraft, trade, profession and skill in work which, with the advance of culture has been carried beyond the sphere of the common pursuits of life into that of artistic and scientific action”.
The term ‘science’ includes:
- Age- A doctor’s opinion may be important when determining the age of a person. The doctor being an expert may give opinion on the age of a person on the basis of height, weight and teeth. Even though this is not same as legal age but his opinion is still relevant.
- Time of Death or Rigor Mortis- Rigor Mortis is a postmortem change in the body which results in the stiffening of the muscles due to chemical changes in the myofibrils. Rigor Mortis is an important factor to assess the time of death.
- Handwriting- The Court while taking the evidence of a handwriting expert must proceed with caution as a handwriting expert can certify only probability and certainty. The evidence of a handwriting expert cannot be relied upon unless it corroborated with other evidence.
- Palm and Thumb impression- According to Section 45, the evidence given by experts of palm and thumb impression is admissible.
- Fingerprints- The Court can rely upon the uncorroborated evidence of a finger print expert but it must satisfy itself as to the value of evidence of a finger expert as it may satisfy itself as to the value of any other evidence.
The term science under this section also includes science of explosives, knowledge about footprints, identification of voice, oral agreements and so on.
ADMISSIBLITY OF EXPERT OPINION
An expert’s opinion is admissible only when he examined as a witness before the Court. He must go through the same process of examination as any other witness. He must be cross-examined as to the opinion given by him regarding any matter.
The evidentiary value of expert witness depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. In certain cases his uncorroborated can be accepted and relied upon whereas in some cases corroboration is necessary. While examining an expert as a witness it must be kept in mind that must only state his opinion. It is upto the Court to determine whether his competent or not and whether his evidence is credible.
- RATANLAL & DHIRAJLAL- THE LAW OF EVIDENCE
- FIELD- EVIDENCE
- LEGAL SERVICES INDIA- https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1205-admissibility-and-relevancy-of-expert-evidence.html
- IPLEADERS- https://blog.ipleaders.in/expert-witnesses-under-the-indian-evidence-act-1872/
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