Law of Confession under Indian Evidence Act

Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure speaks about recording of confessions and statements. It reads thus:

164. Recording of confessions and statements. (1) Any Metropolitan Magistrate or Judicial Magistrate may, whether or not he has jurisdiction in the case, record any confession or statement made to him in the course of an investigation under this Chapter or under any other law for the time being in force, or at any, time afterwards before the commencement of the inquiry or trial:

Provided that any confession or statement made under this Sub-section may also be recorded by audio-video electronic means in the presence of the advocate of the person accused of an offence:

Provided that no confession shall be recorded by a police officer on whom any power of a Magistrate has been conferred under any law for the time being in force.

(2) The Magistrate shall, before recording any such confession, explain to the person making it that he is not bound to make a confession and that, if he does so, it may be used as evidence against him; and the Magistrate shall not record any such confession unless, upon questioning the person making it, he has reason to believe that it is bear, made voluntarily.

(3) If at any time before the confession is recorded, the person appearing before the Magistrate states that he is not willing to make the confession, the Magistrate shall not authorize the detention of such person in police custody.

(4) Any such confession shall be recorded in the manner provided in Section 281 for recording the examination of an accused person and shall be signed by the person making the confession; and the Magistrate shall make a memorandum at the foot of such record to the following effect.

I have explained to (name) that he is not bound to make a confession and that, if he does so, any confession he may make may be used as evidence against him and I believe that this confession was voluntarily made. It was taken in my presence and hearing, and was read over to the person making it and admitted by him to be correct, and it contains a full and true account of the statement made by him.

(Signed) A.B.

Magistrate

(5) Any statement (other than a confession) made under Sub-section (1) shall be recorded in such manner hereinafter provided for the recording of evidence as is, in the opinion of the Magistrate, best fitted to the circumstances of the case; and the Magistrate shall have power to administer oath to the person whose statement is so recorded.

(6) The Magistrate recording a confession or statement under this section shall forward it to the Magistrate by whom the case is to be inquired into or tried.

 Let us consider various decisions touching these aspects.

22. In Bhagwan Singh and Ors. v. State of M.P., (2003) 3 SCC 21, while considering these issues, it was held:

27. …The first precaution that a Judicial Magistrate is required to take is to prevent forcible extraction of confession by the prosecuting agency (see State of U.P. v. Singhara Singh, AIR 1964 SC 358). It was also held by this Court in the case of Shivappa v. State of Karnataka, (1995) 2 SCC 76 that the provisions of Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure must be complied with not only in form, but in essence. Before proceeding to record the confessional statement, a searching enquiry must be made from the accused as to the custody from which he was produced and the treatment he had been receiving in such custody in order to ensure that there is no scope for doubt of any sort of extraneous influence proceeding from a source interested in the prosecution.

28. It has also been held that the Magistrate in particular should ask the accused as to why he wants to make a statement which surely shall go against his interest in the trial. He should be granted sufficient time for reflection. He should also be assured of protection from any sort of apprehended torture or pressure from the police in case he declines to make a confessional statement. Unfortunately, in this case, the evidence of the Judicial Magistrate (PW 1) does not show that any such precaution was taken before recording the judicial confession.

29. The confession is also not recorded in questions-and- answers form which is the manner indicated in the criminal court rules.

30. It has been held that there was custody of the accused Pooran Singh with the police immediately preceding the making of the confession and it is sufficient to stamp the confession as involuntary and hence unreliable. A judicial confession not given voluntarily is unreliable, more so when such a confession is retracted. It is not safe to rely on such judicial confession or even treat it as a corroborative piece of evidence in the case. When a judicial confession is found to be not voluntary and more so when it is retracted, in the absence of other reliable evidence, the conviction cannot be based on such retracted judicial confession. (See Shankaria v. State of Rajasthan, (1978) 3 SCC 435 (para 23)

23. In Shivappa v. State of Karnataka, (1995) 2 SCC 76, while reiterating the same principle it was held:

6. From the plain language of Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure and the rules and guidelines framed by the High Court regarding the recording of confessional statements of an accused under Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure, it is manifest that the said provisions emphasise an inquiry by the Magistrate to ascertain the voluntary nature of the confession. This inquiry appears to be the most significant and an important part of the duty of the Magistrate recording the confessional statement of an accused under Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure. The failure of the Magistrate to put such questions from which he could ascertain the voluntary nature of the confession detracts so materially from the evidentiary value of the confession of an accused that it would not be safe to act upon the same. Full and adequate compliance not merely in form but in essence with the provisions of Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure and the rules framed by the High Court is imperative and its non- compliance goes to the root of the Magistrate’s jurisdiction to record the confession and renders the confession unworthy of credence. Before proceeding to record the confessional statement, a searching enquiry must be made from the accused as to the custody from which he was produced and the treatment he had been receiving in such custody in order to ensure that there is no scope for doubt of any sort of extraneous influence proceeding from a source interested in the prosecution still lurking in the mind of an accused. In case the Magistrate discovers on such enquiry that there is ground for such supposition he should give the accused sufficient time for reflection before he is asked to make his statement and should assure himself that during the time of reflection, he is completely out of police influence. An accused should particularly be asked the reason why he wants to make a statement which would surely go against his self-interest in course of the trial, even if he contrives subsequently to retract the confession. Besides administering the caution, warning specifically provided for in the first part of Sub-section (2) of Section 164 namely, that the accused is not bound to make a statement and that if he makes one it may be used against him as evidence in relation to his complicity in the offence at the trial, that is to follow, he should also, in plain language, be assured of protection from any sort of apprehended torture or pressure from such extraneous agents as the police or the like in case he declines to make a statement and be given the assurance that even if he declined to make the confession, he shall not be remanded to police custody.

7. The Magistrate who is entrusted with the duty of recording confession of an accused coming from police custody or jail custody must appreciate his function in that behalf as one of a judicial officer and he must apply his judicial mind to ascertain and satisfy his conscience that the statement the accused makes is not on account of any extraneous influence on him. That indeed is the essence of a ‘voluntary’ statement within the meaning of the provisions of Section 164 Code of Criminal Procedure and the rules framed by the High Court for the guidance of the subordinate courts. Moreover, the Magistrate must not only be satisfied as to the voluntary character of the statement, he should also make and leave such material on the record in proof of the compliance with the imperative requirements of the statutory provisions, as would satisfy the court that sits in judgment in the case, that the confessional statement was made by the accused voluntarily and the statutory provisions were strictly complied with.

In Dagdu and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra, (1977) 3 SCC 68, the following paragraph is relevant:

51. Learned Counsel appearing for the State is right that the failure to comply with Section 164(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code, or with the High Court Circulars will not render the confessions inadmissible in evidence. Relevancy and admissibility of evidence have to be determined in accordance with the provisions of the Evidence Act. Section 29 of that Act lays down that if a confession is otherwise relevant it does not become irrelevant merely because, inter alia, the accused was not warned that he was not bound to make it and the evidence of it might be given against him. If, therefore, a confession does not violate any one of the conditions operative under Sections 24 to 28 of the Evidence Act, it will be admissible in evidence. But as in respect of any other admissible evidence, oral or documentary, so in the case of confessional statements which are otherwise admissible, the Court has still to consider whether they can be accepted as true. If the facts and circumstances surrounding the making of a confession appear to cast a doubt on the veracity or voluntariness of the confession, the Court may refuse to act upon the confession even if it is admissible in evidence. That shows how important it is for the Magistrate who records the confession to satisfy himself by appropriate questioning of the confessing accused, that the confession is true and voluntary. A strict and faithful compliance with Section 164 of the Code and with the instructions issued by the High Court affords in a large measure the guarantee that the confession is voluntary. The failure to observe the safeguards prescribed therein are in practice calculated to impair the evidentiary value of the confessional statements.

25. Davendra Prasad Tiwari v. State of U.P., (1978) 4 SCC 474, the following conclusion arrived at by this Court is relevant:

13. …It is also true that before a confessional statement made under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure can be acted upon, it must be shown to be voluntary and free from police influence and that the confessional statement made by the Appellant in the instant case cannot be taken into account, as it suffers from serious infirmities in that (1) there is no contemporaneous record to show that the Appellant was actually kept in jail as ordered on September 6, 1974 by Shri R.P. Singh, Judicial Magistrate, Gorakhpur, (2) Shri R.P. Singh who recorded the so called confessional statement of the Appellant did not question him as to why he was making the confession and (3) there is also nothing in the statement of the said Magistrate to show that he told the Appellant that he would not be remanded to the police lock-up even if he did not confess his guilt. It cannot also be gainsaid that the circumstantial evidence relied upon by the prosecution must be complete and incapable of explanation of any other hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused.

26. In Kalawati and Ors. v. State of Himachal Pradesh, (1953) SCR 546 at 631, this Court held:

…In dealing with a criminal case where the prosecution relies upon the confession of one accused person against another accused person, the proper approach to adopt is to consider the other evidence against such an accused person, and if the said evidence appears to be satisfactory and the court is inclined to hold that the said evidence may sustain the charge framed against the said accused person, the court turns to the confession with a view to assure itself that the conclusion which it is inclined to draw from the other evidence is right.

27. In State thr. Superintendent of Police, CBI/SIT v. Nalini and Ors., (1999) 5 SCC 253 at 307, the following paragraphs are relevant which read as under:

96. What is the evidentiary value of a confession made by one accused as against another accused apart from Section 30 of the Evidence Act? While considering that aspect we have to bear in mind that any confession, when it is sought to be used against another, has certain inherent weaknesses. First is, it is the statement of a person who claims himself to be an offender, which means, it is the version of an accomplice. Second is, the truth of it cannot be tested by cross-examination. Third is, it is not an item of evidence given on oath. Fourth is, the confession was made in the absence of the co-accused against whom it is sought to be used.