Whether conviction can be based on circumstantial evidence alone ?

It is an accepted proposition of law that even in cases where no direct evidence is available in the shape of eye-witnesses etc. a conviction can be based on circumstantial evidence alone.


Circumstantial evidence


The hypothesis which can form the basis for conviction purely on circumstantial evidence was stated by this Court in the case of Hanumant Govind Nargundkar v. State of M.P., (1952) SCR 1091. In the aforesaid judgment, Mahajan, J. speaking for the Court stated the principle which reads thus:

It is well to remember that in cases where the evidence is of a circumstantial nature, the circumstances from which the conclusion of guilt is to be drawn should in the first instance be fully established, and all the facts so established should be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused. Again, the circumstances should be of a conclusive nature and tendency and they should be such as to exclude every hypothesis but the one proposed to be proved. In other words, there must be a chain of evidence so far complete as not to leave any reasonable ground for a conclusion consistent with the innocence of the accused and it must be such as to show that within all human probability the act must have been done by the accused.

The aforesaid proposition of law was restated in the case of Naseem Ahmed v. Delhi Admn., (1974) 3 SCC 668 by Chandrachud J. as follows:

This is a case of circumstantial evidence and it is therefore necessary to find whether the circumstances on which prosecution relies are capable of supporting the sole inference that the Appellant is guilty of the crime of which he is charged. The circumstances, in the first place, have to be established by the prosecution by clear and cogent evidence and those circumstances must not be consistent with the innocence of the accused. For determining whether the circumstances established on the evidence raise but one inference consistent with the guilt of the accused, regard must be had to the totality of the circumstances. Individual circumstances considered in isolation and divorced from the context of the over-all picture emerging from a consideration of the diverse circumstances and their conjoint effect may by themselves appear innocuous. It is only when the various circumstances are considered conjointly that it becomes possible to understand and appreciate their true effect.