The Kerala High Court on Thursday criticised the tendency to place “wholesale” reliance on confessions made by accused persons while in police custody when there is no other evidence to support such confessions. [K Babu v State of Kerala]
A division bench of Justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Kauser Edappagath held that if there is no evidence to support such confessions, the accused would be entitled to an acquittal by virtue of the provisions of the Evidence Act.
The Court opined that in order to curb the practice of “wholesale acceptance” of such confessions, it was necessary to hold that such a practice would vitiate the trial against the accused and entitle the accused to an acquittal.
“Since we find that the practice of wholesale acceptance of confession statements of accused persons, albeit for introduction of the relevant statement under Section 27 of the Evidence Act, continues even today, notwithstanding the plethora of judgments of the High Courts and the Supreme Court since the 1960’s that have deprecated the practice, we feel that perhaps the time has now come to hold that the admission into the evidence, of such confessional statements of the accused as are hit by Sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act, and not saved by the provisions of Section 27 of the Act, would, without anything more, vitiate the trial against the accused and entitle him/her to an acquittal,” the Court said in its judgment dated October 26.
The breach of a provision designed to protect a citizen from self incrimination and arbitrary deprivation of life and personal liberty must necessarily have serious consequences.
Kerala High Court
The Court also noted that under the guise of marking relevant portions of the accused person’s confession statement, the prosecution often provided the entire confession statement to the trial court with the relevant portions simply highlighted within brackets.
This, the bench observed, defeats the purpose of Sections 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act which prohibit the admission of confessions (as evidence in a criminal trial) made to the police or by persons in police custody.
“The breach of a statutory provision that is designed to protect a citizen from self incrimination and arbitrary deprivation of life and personal liberty must necessarily have serious consequences for the prosecution. Constitutional safeguards cannot be rendered a teasing illusion by the very State that is obliged to uphold them,” the Court added.
The Court made the observation while acquitting a man who had earlier been convicted in 2011 by a trial court for murder, extortion, house trespass, and robbery.
The prosecution alleged that on December 5, 2006, the accused trespassed into the residence of an elderly couple and killed them.
He was said to have attacked the couple with a billhook/vettukathi, inflicting multiple injuries and killing them. It was further alleged that he cut and removed the gold bangles that one of the deceased was wearing and also took a gun and some cash found in the house. He was also accused of trying to hide evidence and setting the bodies of the elderly couple on fire.
The case was first probed by the police but it was eventually transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). In 2011, a trial court sentenced the accused to life imprisonment. This trial court verdict was eventually challenged by the accused before the High Court.
The High Court found that the prosecution’s case was based on testimonies from two witnesses and the recovery of a billhook, which was based on the accused man’s confession statement to CBI officials.
The Court found the witness testimonies to be unreliable for various reasons.
As for the recovery of the weapon, the Court noted that what can be attributed to the accused was only the knowledge of hiding the billhook at the place where it was eventually found.
Pertinently, the Court pointed out that under Section 27 of the Evidence Act, no other inference could be drawn against the accused only based on the discovery of a material object (billhook) following his statement to a police officer.
In the absence of other evidence to support the prosecution’s case, the Court leaned in favour of acquitting the accused.
The Court proceeded to express that it was “truly appalled” by the “wholesale acceptance” of the accused man’s confession statement without any other evidence to indicate his guilt.
Observing that the trial court had placed undue reliance on the confession statement and that the prosecution had failed to prove its case, the High Court acquitted the accused and ordered that he be set free.
The appellant-accused was represented by advocates Renjith B Marar and Lakshmi N Kaimal.
Senior Advocate KP Satheesan appeared for the prosecution.