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In this article, Yash Tandon of TNNLS discusses the distinction between Direct evidence and Circumstantial Evidence.


Every person who comes across the following words, replies by saying that Direct Evidence is something which is direct in nature and Circumstantial Evidence is something which is indirect in nature. But this is a layman’s language definition and it\’s inappropriate to use such legal terms which has very in-depth significance.

Before going through the intricacies of the aforementioned types of Evidence, let’s look at what is “Evidence” first and then move on step by step.

What is Evidence?

As per Section 3 of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 evidence means and includes both oral and written evidence. Oral evidence includes all the statements which the court permits or requires to be made before it by witnesses, in relation to matters of fact under inquiry. Documentary evidence includes all documents including electronic records produces for the inspection of court.

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The evidence is any matter of fact that a party to the lawsuit offers to prove or disprove on a particular issue in a particular case. It can be said as the system of rules and norms or an arrangement of principles and norms that is utilized to figure out which certainties might be conceded, and to what degree a judge or jury may think about those realities, as verification of a specific issue in a lawsuit.

There are many types of evidence such as-:

  • Eyewitness
  • Participants
  • Prior Statements by the defendants
  • Documents
  • Physical Evidence
  • Scientific Evidence such as fingerprints, DNA etc.

Apart from these, there are two basic forms of evidence, under which the abovementioned kinds of evidence are generally covered. They are-:

  • Direct Evidence, and
  • Circumstantial Evidence( commonly called Indirect Evidence)

Now as we know what exactly is Evidence, let\’s move onto the title of the article i.e. What is Direct and Circumstantial Evidence, and the difference between the two.

What is Direct Evidence?

“Direct Evidence” is evidence that establishes a particular fact without the need to make an inference in order to connect the evidence to the fact. It supports the truth of an assertion (in criminal law, an assertion of guilt or of innocence) directly, i.e., without the need for an intervening inference. It directly proves or disproves the fact.

So Direct Evidence is real, tangible, or clear evidence of a fact, happening, or thing that requires no thinking or consideration to prove its existence. It does not require any type of reasoning or inference to arrive at the conclusion.

Drawback of Direct Evidence

Though Direct evidence is considered to be superior to Circumstantial evidence, one of the main drawbacks of Direct evidence is relying on the evidence completely without any thinking or reasoning to prove its existence. For example in the case of an eyewitness, he/she may lie or may not be able to understand if the event occurs quickly or at the time of high stress to the eyewitness. Also, it can happen that the eyewitness may maliciously testify i.e., intentionally testifies wrongly(though he may get prosecuted for perjury i.e., lying under an oath, that can happen only when the judge or jury orders to counter examine the testification of the witness.

Here comes into the picture the concept of Circumstantial Evidence, which is explained below.

What is Circumstantial Evidence?

Circumstantial Evidence is the evidence that does not point directly to the fact. A reasoning must be made or an inference, that links circumstantial evidence to the desired fact the party is trying to prove.

For instance, in the example explained above, the second part of the said example notifies the circumstantial evidence in its proper sense. In that nobody has seen who did the murder. Now the court or the judge has to circumvent all the issues and frame and connect it to find the desired fact.
In this way, the jury or the judge uses reasoning and logic to grope to the conclusion, unlike in, direct evidence where the judge or the jury relies on the words of the witness. In this type, any evidence has to be evaluated by cross-checking, for the reliability of the source.

Another example would make it crystal clear. Example: B was murdered at 5-pm, in his own house. C saw A coming from the house of B at 5-15pm, with blood shredded knife in his hand. D gave the evidence that A and B seriously quarreled on the day before the occurrence of murder. E, a police officer seized the blood shredded knife from the almirah in the house of A. F, an expert deposed that the blood of the deceased and blood shredded knife of A was one same. These chain of evidence are “circumstantial evidence”.

Nowadays, circumstantial evidence is more often given more importance than direct evidence, because more often in criminal law, direct evidence is misused and justice gets impaired. For instance, fingerprints are circumstantial evidence.

Does direct evidence have more probative value than circumstantial evidence?

The most common form of direct evidence is “eyewitness testimony”, where the witness describes exactly the scenario what happened in the situation. For example – assume a person who is looking out from his door and is seeing a person killing someone else. If he/she testifies this before the court then, it will be the direct evidence because he saw the murder happening in front of his eyes and can identify the murderer.

But suppose the person in the morning found a dead body lying on the road and now if he/she testifies then that testimony would not be direct because he/she does not have any direct proof of who is the murderer and how did it happen?

Under the Indian Evidence Act, “circumstantial evidence” is included under the expression “relevant facts” and it is provided that all “relevant facts” require being proved by some evidence oral or documentary, that is to say, by direct evidence.

Circumstantial evidence, to be relied upon, must not only point to the inference to be drawn by the court, but it must be of such a nature that it can possibly lead to no other inference.

So the value of Direct Evidence is more than Circumstantial Evidence, as in the aforementioned example, there is a direct proof of who killed the individual, unlike in the other situation where a body was seen lying and no one knew who and how did the murder happen. But this is not always true. There are many cases where solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence conviction has happened.

Can someone be convicted on just circumstantial evidence?

On account of Chandmal v Province of Rajasthan[1], the court has held that in circumstances where the case is completely in light of the circumstantial proof the three conditions must be satisfied:

1) The conditions on which we depend for proving must be built up immovably.

2) The conditions must be exact and they should point towards the blame of the individual who is denounced.

3) When every one of the conditions taken in general they should shape a total chain and there must be no escape clause in the chain. It must show that the blamed just could have carried out the wrongdoing and no one else could have done it.

In the instance of Sathya Narayan v State[2] it has been held that in specific cases it is conceivable where no immediate proof or observer is accessible, in such a circumstance the court can grant conviction exclusively on the premise of circumstantial proof if the accompanying five standards are connected:

1) “The conditions from which the finish of blame is to be drawn ought to be completely built up. The conditions must be or ought to and not might be built up.

2) The realities so settled ought to be predictable just with the speculation of the blame of the denounced, in other words, they ought not to be clarified on some other theory aside from that the charged is blameworthy.

3) The conditions ought to be of a decisive sort and propensity

4) They ought to avoid each conceivable theory aside from the one to be demonstrated

5) There must be a chain of confirmation so entire as not to leave any sensible ground for the finish of the charged and should demonstrate that conflicting with the guiltlessness of the blamed, what\’s more, must demonstrate that in all human likelihood the demonstration probably is finished by the accused.\”

In another case of Khem Karan v State of U.P[3], the court stated that-: “If all the circumstances and the evidence point towards the guilt of the accused and there is no possibility of any other alternative hypothesis then in such a situation only the accused can be convicted solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence.”

Aarushi Talwar Case: Whether the Conviction of the parents was based on Circumstantial Evidence?

In Aarushi Talwar Case the court has passed judgment on the premise of the conditional proof yet has neglected to welcome the confirmation. To convict on the premise of circumstantial proof the court must welcome every one of the confirmations of the conditions which point towards the blame of the charged. Every one of the confirmations needs to point towards the blame of the charged. In this case, it was not the situation. The reports of the two CBI groups have the suspect totally unique arrangement of individuals. The principal CBI group speculates the Servants as the prime suspects as they have conceded their essence in the event amid the narco examination and the same has been demonstrated with the assistance of melody broadcast on the news channel however that witness had not been conceded.

In the meantime when the case got exchanged to the new CBI group they suspected the guardians and drew a total distinctive theory that Rajesh murdered Aarushi and Hemraj seeing them in a trading off position and the correct part of the couple in the murder cannot be resolved however it is assumed that Dr.Rajesh executed the two and his better half, Dr Nupur Talwar helped him decimate the evidence. In this manner, the reports obviously recommend that there are two conceivable outcomes and in such a circumstance when the conviction depends on incidental proof the circumstance which supports the blamed must be acknowledged by the court and the charged must be given the advantage of uncertainty.

Be that as it may, here the court has neglected to take after this and has sentenced the Talwar couple on the premise of incidental confirmation without building up the same appropriately. Along these lines, no advantage of uncertainty has been given to the charged, Talwar couple.

One can be convicted of murder or rape solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. But the reliability on public officials has to be made, and in turn, the work of public officials gets of immense responsibility. The onus on public officials is huge and they had to investigate properly, so that justice is rendered diligently, unlike in the Aarushi Talwar case where the parents were convicted, which led to improper justice.

[1] AIR 1976 SC 917.

[2] 2013 (80) ACC 138 (SC).

[3] AIR 1974 SC 1567 (3JJ).


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