Evidence of woman’s relatives in matrimonial dispute can’t be brushed aside terming them ‘interested witnesses’: Madras High Court

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The Madras High Court recently observed that evidence adduced by victim-woman’s relatives in matrimonial disputes cannot be brushed aside by terming them as interested witnesses [P Senthil v State].

Single-judge Justice P Velmurugan said that in matrimonial disputes, it is usually the family members who would know about incidents which happen within the four walls of the house.

Moreover, such family members would usually refrain from unnecessarily giving out information about family disputes especially between the husband and wife in the court, even if they know about the incidents, the Court said.

“In the matrimonial disputes, only the family members can notice the incidents, which occurred in the home i.e. within the four wall and they can only come forward to give evidence and the third party, even if they also know, will not be ready to give evidence and they would think that it is a family dispute and the husband and wife will quarrel each other today and tomorrow would join together why should they poke their nose unnecessarily in the family dispute especially between the husband and wife,” the judgment stated.

In the present case, the Court observed that the relatives (witnesses) had clearly spoken about the cruelty caused by the husband against the woman (wife) and, therefore, their evidence could not be simply brushed aside contending that they are interested witnesses.

The Court, therefore, upheld the appellant-husband’s conviction for cruelty awarded by trial court.

The case arose after a complaint was filed by victim-wife against her husband and his family for cruelty with other offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The trial judge after taking into consideration arguments advanced on either side, by a judgment dated December 16, 2019, acquitted all the accused and convicted the appellant husband only for the offence cruelty under Section 498A of IPC.

The trial judge sentenced him to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of two years and to pay a fine of ₹5,000 and in default, to undergo simple imprisonment for a further period of three months.

The husband moved the High Court in appeal against the said judgment of conviction.

The counsel for appellant contended that trial judge convicted him solely on the basis of evidence adduced by prosecution witnesses.

It was argued that the prosecution witnesses were interested parties and hearsay witnesses, whose testimony cannot be relied upon by the trial court for convicting the appellant for the offence under Section 498A.

It was also pointed out there was a delay of nearly 20 days in lodging the complaint since the day when the alleged cruelty was meted out to the complainant-wife.

The single-judge refused to entertain the contentions put forth by appellant and noted that a delay of 20 days in lodging the complaint could not be a reason to acquit the appellant since it was natural for a newly married woman to take time to disclose about the cruelty to others.

A newly married woman would not rush to the police station to lodge complaints and her parents too would only attempt to settle the dispute at the first instance, the Court added.

The judge further noted that wife had categorically stated about the incidents and her relatives had also corroborated the same and therefore there was cogent evidence on commission of offence under Section 498A.

“In the result, the criminal appeal stands dismissed as devoid of merit and substance. The trial Court is directed to secure the appellant to undergo remaining period of sentence, if any,” court observed.

Being an appellate Court, it is important to reappreciate the entire evidence independently and give the finding, Court said.

“Accordingly this Court, being an appellate Court, while re-visiting the entire evidence found the appellant guilty for the offence punishable under Section 498A of IPC and there is no sound reason or ground to interfere with the judgment of conviction made by the trial Court,” court held

Appellant was represented by Advocate K Balakrishnan while prosecution was represented by advocate S Sugendran.

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