Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire – No one at the point of death is presumed to lie

“Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire – No one at the point of death is presumed to lie.”

“A man will not meet his Maker with a lie in his mouth” – Is the PHILOSOPHY in law underlying admittance in evidence of dying declaration.

“A dying declaration made by person on the verge of his death has a special sanctity as at that solemn moment, a person is most unlikely to make any untrue statement. The shadow of impending death is by itself the guarantee of the truth of the statement made by the deceased regarding the causes or circumstances leading to his death. A dying declaration, therefore, enjoys almost a sacrosanct status, as a piece of evidence, coming as it does from the mouth of the deceased victim. Once the statement of the dying person and the evidence of the witnesses testifying to the same passes the test of careful scrutiny of the Courts, it becomes a very important and a reliable piece of evidence and if the Court is satisfied that the dying declaration is true and free from any embellishment such a dying declaration, by itself, can be sufficient for recording conviction even without looking for any corroboration” –

Is the statement of law summed up by this Court in Kundula Bala Subrahmanyam vs. State of A.P., (1993) 2 SCC 684. The Court added – such a statement, called the dying declaration, is relevant and admissible in evidence provided it has been made by the deceased while in a fit mental condition. The above statement of law, by way of preamble to this judgment, has been necessitated as this appeal, putting in issue acquittal of the accused respondents from a charge under Section 302/34, I.P.C. seeks reversal of the impugned judgment and invites this Court to record a finding of guilty based on the singular evidence of dying declaration made by the victim. The law is well settled; dying declaration is admissible in evidence. The admissibility is founded on principle of necessity.

A dying declaration, if found reliable, can form the basis of conviction. A Court of facts is not excluded from acting upon an uncorroborated dying declaration for finding conviction. A dying declaration, as a piece of evidence, stands on the same footing as any other plece of evidence. It has to be judged and appreciated in the light of the surrounding circumstances and its weight determined by reference to the principles governing the weighing of evidence. It is, as if the maker of the dying declaration was present in the Court, making a statement, stating the facts contained in the declaration, with the difference that the declaration is not a statement on oath and the maker thereof cannot be subjected to cross-examination. If in a given case a particular dying declaration suffers from any infirmities, either of its own or as disclosed by other evidence adduced in the case or circumstances coming to its notice, the Court may as a rule of prudence look for corroboration and if the infirmities be such as render the dying declaration so infirm as to prick the conscience of the Court, the same may be refused to be accepted as forming safe basis for conviction. In the case at hand, the dying declarations are five. However, it is not the number of dying declarations which will weigh with the Court. A singular dying declaration not suffering from any infirmity and found worthy of being relied on may form the basis of conviction. On the other hand if every individual dying declaration consisting in a plurality is found to be infirm, the Court would not be persuaded to act thereon merely because the dying declarations are more than one and apparently consistent.[ Smt. Laxmi Vs Om Prakash and others AIR 2001 SC 2383 ]

The law summed up by Apex Court in Kundula Bala Subrahmanyam vs. State of A.P., (1993) 2 SCC 684Section 32(1) of the Evidence Act is an exception to the general rule that hearsay evidence is not admissible evidence and unless evidence is tested by cross-examination, it is not creditworthy. Under S. 32, when a statement is made by a person, as to the cause of death or as to any of the circumstances which result in his death, in cases in which the cause of that person’s death comes into question, such a statement, oral or in writing, made by the deceased to the witness is a relevant fact and is admissible in evidence. The statement made by the deceased called the dying declaration falls in that category provided it has been made by the deceased while in a fit mental condition. A dying declaration made by person on the verge of his death has a special sanctity as at that solemn moment, a person is most unlikely to make any untrue statement. The shadow of impending death is by itself the guarantee of the truth of the statement made by the deceased regarding the causes or circumstances leading to his death. A dying declaration, therefore, enjoys almost a sacrosanct status, as a piece of evidence, coming as it does from the mouth of the deceased victim. Once the statement of the dying person and the evidence of the witnesses testifying to the same passes the test of careful scrutiny of the Courts, it becomes a very important and a reliable piece of evidence and if the Court is satisfied that the dying declaration is true and free from any embellishment such a dying declaration, by itself, can be sufficient for recording conviction even without looking for any corroboration. If there are more than one dying declarations, then the Court has also to scrutinise all the dying declarations to find out if each one of these passes the test of being trustworthy. The Court must further find out whether the different dying declarations are consistent with each other in material particulars before accepting and relying upon the same. Having read the evidence of PWs 1-3 with great care and attention, we are of the view that their testimony is based on intrinsic truth. Both the dying declarations are consistent with each other in all material facts and particulars. That the deceased was in a proper mental condition to make the dying declaration or that they were voluntary has neither been doubted by the defence in the Course of cross-examination of the Witnesses nor even in the course of arguments both in the High Court and before us. Both the dying declarations have passed the test of creditworthiness and they suffer from no infirmity whatsoever. We have therefore no hesitation to hold that the prosecution has successfully established a very crucial piece of circumstantial evidence in the case that the deceased had voluntarily made the dying declarations implicating both the appellants and disclosing the manner in which she had been put on fire shortly before her death. This circumstance, therefore, has been established by the prosecution beyond every reasonable doubt by clear and cogent evidence.

Again it is held in the same case Kundula Bala Subrahmanyam vs. State of A.P., (1993) 2 SCC :

28. A dying declaration not being a deposition in Court, neither made on oath nor in the presence of the accused and therefore not tested by cross-examination is yet admissible in evidence as an exception to the general rule against the admissibility of hearsay. The admissibility is founded on the principle of necessity. The weak points of a dying declaration serve to put the Court on its guard while testing its reliability and impose on the Court an obligation to closely scrutinise all the relevant attendant circumstances. (See Tapinder Singh vs. State of Punjab, (1971) 1 SCJ 871. One of the important tests of the reliability of the dying declaration is a finding arrived at by the Court as to satisfaction that the deceased was in a fit state of mind and capable of making a statement at the point of time when the dying declaration purports to have been made and/or recorded. The statement may be brief or longish. It is not the length of the statement but the fit state of mind of the victim to narrate the facts of occurrence which has relevance. If the Court finds that the capacity of the maker of the statement to narrate the facts was impaired or the Court entertains grave doubts whether the deceased was in a fit physical and mental state to make the statement the Court may in the absence of corroborative evidence lending assurance to the contents of the declaration refuse to act on it. In Bhagwan Das vs. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1957 SC 589 : (1957 Cri LJ 889) the learned Sessions Judge found inter alia that it was improbable if the maker of the dying declaration was able to talk so as to make a statement. This Court while upholding the finding of the learned Sessions Judge held the dying-declaration by itself insufficient for sustaining a conviction on a charge of murder. In Kake Singh alias Surendra Singh vs. State of M.P., AIR 1982 SC 1021 : (1982 Cri LJ 986) the dying declaration was refused to be acted upon when there was no specific statement by the doctor that the deceased after being burnt was conscious or could have made coherent statement. In Darshan Singh vs. State of Punjab, AIR 1983 SC 554 : (1983 Cri LJ 985) this Court found that the deceased could not possibly have been in a position to make any kind of intelligible statement and therefore said that the dying declaration could not be relied on for any purpose and had to be excluded from consideration. In Mahar Singh vs. State of Punjab, AIR 1981 SC 1578 : (1981 Cri LJ 998) the dying declaration was recorded by the Investigating Officer. This Court excluded the same from consideration for failure of the Investigating Officer to get the dying declaration attested by the doctor who was alleged to be present in the hospital or any one else present.

29. A dying declaration made to a police officer is admissible in evidence, however, the practice of dying declaration being recorded by Investigating Officer has been discouraged and this Court has urged the Investigating Officer availing the services of Magistrate for recording dying declaration if it was possible to do so and the only exception is when the deceased was in such a precarious condition that there was no other alternative left except the statement being recorded by the Investigating Officer or the police officer lateron relied on as dying declaration. In Munnu Raja vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1976 SC 2199 : (1976 Cri LJ 1718) this Court observed – “Investigating Officer are naturally interested in the success of the investigation and the practice of the Investigating Officer himself recording a dying declaration during the course of an Investigation ought not to be encouraged.” The dying declaration recorded by the Investigating Officer in the presence of the doctor and some of the friends and relations of the deceased was excluded from consideration as failure to requisition the services of a Magistrate for recording the dying declaration was not explained. In Dalip Singh vs. State of Punjab, AIR 1979 SC 1173 : (1979 Cri LJ 700) this Court has permitted dying declaration recorded by Investigating Officer being admitted in evidence and considered on proof that better and more reliable methods of recording dying declaration of injured person were not feasible for want of time or facility available. It was held that a dying declaration in a murder case, though could not be rejected on the ground that it was recorded by a police officer as the deceased was in a critical condition and no other person could be available in the village to record the dying declaration yet the dying declaration was left out of consideration as it contained a statement which was a bit doubtful.

Recording Dying Declaration

In Dalip Singh vs. State of Punjab, AIR 1979 SC 1173 : (1979 Cri LJ 700) :

8. There were two dying declarations of Ram Singh one oral and the other written which was recorded by the Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police, P. W. 28 on 12-12-75. The oral dying declaration was made to P. W. 11 Tara Singh. Neither of the dying declarations was relied upon by the High Court because he had named Baldev Singh also. We may also add that although a dying declaration recorded by a Police Officer during the course of the investigation is admissible under Section 32 of the Indian Evidence Act in view of the exception provided in sub-section (2) of Section 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, it is better to leave such dying declarations out of consideration until and unless the prosecution satisfies the court as to why it was not recorded by a Magistrate or by a Doctor. As observed by this Court in Munnu Raja v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1976) 2 SCR 764 the practice of the Investigating Officer himself recording a dying declaration during the course of investigation ought not to be encouraged. We do not mean to suggest that such dying declarations are always untrustworthy, but, what we want to emphasize is that better and more reliable methods of recording a dying declaration of an injured person should be taken recourse to and the one recorded by the Police Officer may be relied upon if there was no time or facility available to the prosecution for adopting any better method.

Reliance on dying declaration without corroboration—Permissibility :

In order to pass the test of reliability, a dying declaration has to be subjected to a very close scrutiny, keeping in view the fact that the statement has been made in the absence of the accused who had no opportunity of testing the veracity of the statement by cross-examination. But once, the Court has come to the conclusion that the dying declaration was the truthful version as to the circumstances of the death and the assailants of the victim, there is no question of further corroboration.

If, on the other band, the Court, after examining the dying declaration in all its aspects, and testing its veracity, has come to the conclusion that it is not reliable by itself, and that it suffers from an infirmity, then, without corroboration it cannot form the basis of a conviction. Thus, the necessity for corroboration arises not from any inherent weakness of a dying declaration as a piece of evidence, as held in some of the reported cases, but from the fact that the Court, in a given case, has come to the conclusion that that particular dying declaration was not free from the infirmities, referred to above or from such other infirmities as may be disclosed in evidence in that case.

Dying declaration—Distinction with a confession

Sometimes, attempts have been made to equate a dying declaration with the evidences of an accomplice or the evidence furnished by a confession as against the maker, if it is retracted, and as against others, even though not restricted. But in our opinion, it is not right in principle to do so.

Though under Section 133 of the Evidence Act, it is not illegal to convict a person on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice, illustration (b) to Section 114 of the Act, lays down as a rule of prudence based on experience, that an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless his evidence is corroborated in material particulars and this has now been accepted as a rule of law.

The same cannot be said of a dying declaration because a dying declaration may not, unlike a confession, or the testimony of an approver, come from a tainted source. If a dying declaration has been made by a person whose antecedents are as doubtful as in the other cases, that may be a ground for looking upon it with suspicion, but generally speaking, the maker of a dying declaration cannot be tarnished with the same brush as the maker of a confession or an approver.

Principles of testing the reliability of dying declaration

(1) That it cannot be laid down as an absolute rule of law that a dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of conviction unless it is corroborated;

(2) that each case must be determined on its own facts keeping in view the circumstances in which the dying declaration was made;

(3) that it cannot be laid down as a general proposition that a dying declaration is a seeker kind of evidence than other pieces of evidence;

(4) that a dying declaration stands on the same footing as another piece of evidence and has to be judged in the light of surrounding circumstances and with reference to the principles governing the weighing of evidence;

(5) that a dying declaration which has been recorded by a competent Magistrate in the proper manner, that is to say, in the form of questions and answers, and, as far as practicable, in the words of the maker of the declaration, stands on a much higher footing than a dying declaration which depends upon or an testimony which may suffer from all the informities of human memory and human character.

(6) that in order to test the reliability of a dying declaration, the Court has to keep in view, the circumstances like the opportunity of the dying man for observation, for example, whether there was sufficient light if the crime was committed at night whether the capacity of the man to remember the facts stated, had not been impaired at the time he was making the statement, by circumstances beyond his control; that the statement has been consistent throughout if he had several opportunities of making a dying declaration apart from the official record of it; and that the statement had been made at the earliest opportunity and was not the result of tutoring by interested parties. [Khushal Rao Versus State of Bombay-25/09/1957 AIR 1958 SC 22]