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This article has been written by Ayush Tiwari, a student of Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. The article aims to analyse one of the landmark judgments with regard to dying declarations.

This article has been published by Abanti Bose.

Introduction

Case Name: Jagbir Singh vs. NCT of Delhi

Year of judgment: 4 September 2019

Citation: 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1148, AIR 2019 SC 417

Court: Supreme Court of India

Bench: Hon’ble Mr Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hon’ble Mr Justice K.M. Joseph

This case is based on the dying declaration which is explained in Section 32 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. A dying declaration is a declaration made by a person while he/she is dying, which describes the reason for his/her death. The dying person’s statement might be speculative or reveal the reason for his/her death. As a result, the final declaration made immediately before a person’s death is known as the dying declaration. This case of Jagbir Singh vs. NCT of Delhi deals with several such dying declarations and would help us in having a thorough knowledge about how the apex court deals with such complex cases. 

Facts of the case

  • In the year 1999, the deceased wife married the appellant, Jagbir Singh. He was out of work at the time he got married. But, he eventually found work in the C.R.P.F after a few years. Her wife continued to stay with her mother at her house as the appellant didn’t take her with him. Whenever the appellant came back, he used to torture his wife and also had an extramarital affair with his brother’s wife. After the wife found out about this, a panchayat was held. 
  • After four years, when the appellant was transferred to Delhi, he promised the deceased’s mother that he would not trouble his wife, and he moved in with his wife and mother-in-law. The prosecution contended that the appellant continued to have an affair with his brother’s wife even after the panchayat was held. 
  • On January 23, 2008, the deceased’s mother visited another daughter’s house. On January 24, 2008, about 6:00 p.m, the appellant arrived at the residence under the influence of alcohol and poured kerosene on his wife and on himself too, and tossed a lit matchstick on his wife. Both the appellant and his wife were first transported to the hospital. After this two dying declarations or statements were made by the wife on January 24, 2008, and January 25, 2008, which didn’t implicate the husband and the deceased said that the fire was caused due to the petrol of the motorcycle getting into contact with the lit “biri” of the appellant. 
  • On the other hand, on January 27, 2008, the deceased made another dying declaration in which the appellant was blamed and attributed the conduct of pouring kerosene and setting her aflame which led to her death on February 2, 2008.
  • Then an FIR was filed on January 27, 2008, based on a dying declaration dated January 27, 2008, the appellant was booked under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which was later modified to Section 302 of the IPC when the wife succumbed to injuries caused by the fire. This is in addition to a charge of threatening his wife under Section 506 of the IPC. 
  • The appellant was convicted by the Trial Court under Sections 302 and 506 of the IPC, 1860, and his appeal to the High Court was failed, resulting in this appeal. 

Issues

Following are the issues raised in the case:

  • Whether the first two statements made by the deceased were dying declarations?
  • Whether the cause of the fire was petrol from motorcycles or kerosene?

Contentions of the parties

Following are the contention of the parties in this case:

Submissions by the appellant

  • The cause of death was petrol which split from the motorcycle and after coming into contact with his ‘Biri’ caught fire due to which his wife died.
  • He also caught fire while he was helping his wife due to which his 40% body also got burnt.

Submissions by the prosecution

  • That the cause of death was the kerosene poured by the appellant which resulted in the deceased catching fire and finally succumbing to death.
  • That the first and second statements given by the deceased are not dying declarations.

Judgment

Ratio Decidendi

To decide this case the Supreme Court firstly attended to the issue of multiple dying declarations. It was contended by the prosecution that the statements made on 24 and 25 January 2008 were not dying declarations. Regarding it, the Court said that any statement made by a person relating to the cause of his death or any condition of the transaction that resulted in his death would be relevant under Section 32 of the Evidence Act. Even though the statement is brief, this does not negate its reliability. Similarly, it is not the law that the court must always prefer the incriminatory statement and reject the statement that does not incriminate the accused when there are conflicting dying declarations. The true question is which one holds the truth.

Regarding the declaration made on 27 January 2008, the Apex Court said that the dying statement is a rather substantial narrative. It offers graphic information about what transpired on a fateful day, January 24, 2008, including data about the location, how it occurred, the precise role played by the appellant, and even items (the presence of the motorbike, the closed-door) are portrayed. It was even mentioned that the appellant had a connection with his sister-in-law.

The courts believe that because the dead and the appellant were both hospitalised to the same hospital, the appellant’s presence would have prevented the deceased from telling the truth. The appellant and the dead were both admitted to the same hospital till January 25, 2008. In this respect, the deceased indicated in her dying declaration, which the prosecution relied on, that she could not submit a statement on the same day because the appellant had threatened her. This appears to imply that she has proceeded on the assumption that the statement made on January 27, 2008, is her first dying declaration. As a result, the statement she made on January 24, 2008, when she was admitted, cannot be considered a declaration. In addition, according to a declaration made on January 25, 2008, also, she was operating under the threat of her spouse.

The judges considered the circumstances that emerged from the facts after deciding on dying declarations. There were only two possible causes for the fire that resulted in the deceased’s death. It was either unintentional or intentional. If it was determined to be an accident, homicide is ruled out. Likewise, the inverse is true. The presence of kerosene, beginning with the can, and continuing with kerosene found by the inspecting officer on the spot near the can on his inspection the same day, as well as the presence of kerosene residue on the deceased’s and appellant’s clothing, as discovered by the scientific expert, would establish that kerosene was used in causing the fire. This completely strengthens the case. It also plainly knocks out the appellant’s position that the fire was caused by an accident while the appellant was lighting his ‘biri’ and a leak from the motorcycle caused the fire. 

Observations of the court

The Supreme Court referred to several judgments to solve the issue of multiple dying declarations and then culled out the following principles:

  1. A person can be found guilty only based on a dying declaration that inspires the court’s trust.
  2. If the statement is not suspicious, no further verification may be required;
  3. Without a doubt, the court must be convinced that no tutoring or encouragement had taken place;
  4. The court must also examine and conclude that the deceased’s imagination was not at work while making the declaration. The court must consider the entirety of the language of the dying declaration in this regard.
  5. The court must be convinced that the version is compatible with the reality and truth as derived from the facts established after considering the material before it, both in the form of oral and documentary evidence.
  6. However, there may be instances where more than one death declaration is made. If there are many dying declarations, they may all be in complete agreement with one another. Inconsistencies between the claims may occur in dying declarations. The court would next have to evaluate the magnitude of the contradictions.  It’s possible that the contradictions can be reconciled.
  7. There can be more than one dying declaration and they can also be inconsistent, i.e., in the first statement a person can be blamed for a crime but in the second statement, that same person is not blamed at all. In that scenario, it may not be a question of an inconsistent dying declaration but a dying declaration that is completely opposed to the dying declaration which is given earlier. There may be more than two.
  8. What should be the duty of the court? Should the court conclude, without looking into anything else, that the prosecution’s second or third dying declaration is demolished by the earlier dying declaration or dying declarations because of complete inconsistency, or is it the court’s responsibility to carefully examine not only the dying declarations but also the rest of the materials in the form of evidence placed before the court and still conclude that the incriminatory dying declaration is demolished by the earlier dying declaration or dying declarations?

Landmark cases mentioned in the judgment 

In the case of Kundula Bala Subrahmanyam vs. State of Andhra Pradesh (1993) it was held that “when a dying person’s statement and the evidence of witnesses testifying to the same passes the court’s scrutiny, it becomes a very important and reliable piece of evidence, and if the court is satisfied with the dying declaration, it can be enough to record a conviction without any further evidence. If there are several dying declarations, the court must examine each one to ensure that it is genuine and consistent with the others.” 

In the case of In Lakhan v. State of M.P. (2010), the Court was dealing with a case where the wife died as a consequence of burn injuries. The dead wife stated in her first dying declaration before the Magistrate that kerosene oil had been poured behind her back while she was cooking. According to the next dying declaration, the appellant/accused brought a metal container full of kerosene and poured it on her body, after which he set a fire and burned her. The Court determined that the second dying declaration was trustworthy, based on the fact that it was substantiated by the deceased’s previous declaration to her parents, who were examined.

Held

This circumstance conclusively proved that the version projected in the declaration dated 27 January 2008 that kerosene was the fuel used that caused the burn injuries, and its position in the inner room as informed by the inspecting officer was totally consistent with the dying declaration dated 27 January 2008. The Court stated that it found no reason to intervene based on the facts and circumstances presented above. The appeal was dismissed.

Analysis

In this case, the Court analysed each and every contention raised by the parties of the case for determining whether the cause of death was an accident or homicide. While deciding about the dying declarations, the court first differentiated between English law and Indian law with regard to dying declarations. Then they did an in-depth analysis by referring to case laws and then gave principles on how to decide when there are multiple declarations in a case. The judgment given in this case was after a thorough analysis of the facts, evidence, and witnesses. The judges made sure that all the dying declarations were discussed and taken into consideration. They saw the case from each and every angle possible and then delivered the rightful judgment.

References


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