‘Relationship factor cannot affect witness credibility’

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court has reiterated that the credibility of an eye-witness of a crime cannot be questioned simply because he or she happened to be a relative of the victim.

‘Merely because the eye-witnesses are family members, their evidence cannot per se be discarded. Mere statement that being relatives of the deceased they are likely to falsely implicate the accused cannot be a ground to discard the evidence, which is otherwise cogent and credible,’ ruled a bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat.

‘Relationship is not a factor to affect credibility of a witness. More often than not, a family member (of a crime victim) would not make allegations against an innocent person, and protecting in the process the actual culprit,’ said the bench, which also included Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly.

The bench gave the ruling Friday, while endorsing the life sentence accorded to a Punjab police constable Joginder Singh, convicted for gunning down a villager of Chak Saidoke of Fazilka district in Punjab Jan 18, 1993 during a local panchayat (village municipal body) election.

Constable Joginder Singh was deputed with the Ferozpur superintendent of police, when he gunned down Harjinder Singh, who had gone to cast his vote along with his family members, including his brother Harbansh Singh.

Joginder Singh had shot dead Harjinder Singh merely because he and his brother had requested other villagers to stand peacefully in queue to ensure smooth conduct of the election.

Though during his trial, Joginder Singh had taken the plea that Harjinder Singh was trying to capture the booth and snatch ballot boxes, there was no evidence that there was any disturbance at the polling booth that day.

The accused was convicted by a trial court and his conviction with life sentence was subsequently endorsed by the Punjab and Haryana High court.

As the former police constable came to the apex court in an appeal against his conviction, he raised the plea that he was largely convicted on the deposition made by the relatives of his victims.

Such depositions inherently and intrinsically happen to be suspect, his counsel argued before the apex court.

But the apex court dismissed the contention saying: ‘We may observe that the ground that the witness being a close relative and consequently being a partisan witness, should not be relied upon, has no substance.’

The convict’s counsel also argued that their client should not be convicted for murder as he had fired only one shot from his rifle.

But the bench dismissed this argument as well saying: ‘It cannot be laid down as a rule of universal application that when there is only one shot fired, Section 302 IPC is ruled out.’

‘It would depend upon the factual scenario, more particularly, the nature of weapon, the place where the injury is caused and the nature of the injury,’ the bench said.


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