Sole Eye Witness should be Reliable & Trustworthy

The Supreme Court rulings stress the necessity for reliable testimony in convicting based on an eyewitness account. If credibility is questionable, independent corroboration is required. Factors like unnatural witness behavior or unexplained circumstances can undermine credibility. Each case demands examining witness conduct and corroborating evidence critically before conviction.

“8. It is a settled principle of law that doubt cannot replace proof. Suspicion, howsoever great it may be, is no substitute of proof in criminal jurisprudence [ Jagga Singh v. State of Punjab, 1994 Supp (3) SCC 463]. Only such evidence is admissible and acceptable as is permissible in accordance with law. In the case of a sole eye witness, the witness has to be reliable, trustworthy, his testimony worthy of credence and the case proven beyond reasonable doubt. Unnatural conduct and unexplained circumstances can be a ground for disbelieving the witness.

Supreme Court
Narendrasinh Keshubhai Zala v. State of Gujarat, 2023 (4) SCALE 478

“3. … So long as the single eyewitness is a wholly reliable witness the courts have no difficulty in basing conviction on his testimony alone. However, where the single eyewitness is not found to be a wholly reliable witness, in the sense that there are some circumstances which may show that he could have an interest in the prosecution, then the courts generally insist upon some independent corroboration of his testimony, in material particulars, before recording conviction. It is only when the courts find that the single eyewitness is a wholly unreliable witness that his testimony is discarded in toto and no amount of corroboration can cure that defect…”

Supreme Court
Anil Phukan v. State of Assam, (1993) 3 SCC 282

“26. From the aforesaid pronouncements, it is vivid that witnesses to certain crimes may run away from the scene and may also leave the place due to fear and if there is any delay in their examination, the testimony should not be discarded. That apart, a court has to keep in mind that different witnesses react differently under different Situations. Some witnesses get a shock, some become perplexed, some start wailing and some run away from the scene and yet some who have the courage and conviction come forward either to lodge an FIR or get themselves examined immediately. Thus, it differs from individuals to individuals. There cannot be uniformity in human reaction. While the said principle has to be kept in mind, it is also to be borne in mind that if the conduct of the witness is so unnatural and is not in accord with acceptable human behaviour allowing variations, then his testimony becomes questionable and is likely to be discarded.

27. Keeping in mind the aforesaid, we shall proceed to scrutinise the evidence of PW2. As is evincible from his deposition, on seeing the assault he got scared, ran away from the hotel and hid himself behind the pipes till early morning. He went home, changed his clothes and rushed to Pune [Ed.: Since the case has been tried by the Additional Sessions Judge, Raigad, Alibag, it would seem that the incident took place in Alibag, Raigad, which is about 300 km from Pune.] . He did not mention about the incident to his family members. He left for Pune and the reason for the same was also not stated to his family members. He did not try to contact the police from his residence which he could have. After his arrival at Pune, he did not mention about the incident in his sister-in-law’s house. After coming back from Pune, on the third day of the occurrence, his wife informed him that the police had come and that Bhau, who had accompanied him, was dead. It is interesting to note that in the statement under Section 161 of the Code, PW 2 had not stated that he was hiding himself out of fear or he was scared of the police. In the said statement, the fact that he was informed by his wife that Bhau was dead was also not mentioned. One thing is clear from his testimony that on seeing the incident, he was scared and frightened and ran away from the hotel. He was frightened and hid himself behind the pipes throughout the night and left for home the next morning. But his conduct not to inform his wife or any family member and leaving for Pune and not telling anyone there defies normal human behaviour. He has also not stated anywhere that he was so scared that even after he reached home, he did not go to the police station which was hardly at any distance from his house. There is nothing in his testimony that he was under any kind of fear or shock when he arrived at his house. It is also surprising that he had not told his family members and he went to Pune without disclosing the reason and after he arrived from Pune and on being informed by his wife that his companion Bhau had died, he went to the police station. We are not oblivious of the fact that certain witnesses in certain circumstances may be frightened and behave in a different manner and due to that, they may make themselves available to the police belatedly and their examination gets delayed. But in the case at hand, regard being had to the evidence brought on record and, especially, non-mentioning of any kind of explanation for rushing away to Pune, the said factors make the veracity of his version doubtful. His evidence cannot be treated as so trustworthy and unimpeachable to record a conviction against the appellants. The learned trial court as well as the High Court has made an endeavour to connect the links and inject theories like fear, behavioural pattern, tallying of injuries inflicted on the deceased with the post-mortem report and convicted the appellants. In the absence of any kind of clinching evidence to connect the appellants with the crime, we are disposed to think that it would not be appropriate to sustain the conviction.”

Supreme Court
Lahu Kamlakar Patil And Another v. State of Maharashtra, (2013) 6 SCC 417