Testimony of the approver

Supreme Court in Sarwan Singh Vs. The State of Punjab, wherein it has been held as follows:

…An accomplice is undoubtedly a competent witness under the Indian Evidence Act. There can be, however, no doubt that the very fact that he has participated in the commission of the offence introduces a serious stain in his evidence and Courts are naturally reluctant to act on such tainted evidence unless it is corroborated in material particulars by other independent evidence. It would not be right to expect that such independent corroboration should cover the whole of the prosecution story or even all the material particulars. If such a view is adopted it would render the evidence of the accomplice wholly superfluous. On the other hand, it would not be safe to act upon such evidence merely because it is corroborated in minor particulars or incidental details because, in such a case, corroboration does not afford the necessary assurance that the main story disclosed by the approver can be reasonably and safely accepted as true. But it must never be forgotten that before the court reaches the stage of considering the question of corroboration and its adequacy or otherwise, the first initial and essential question to consider is whether even as an accomplice the approver is a reliable witness. If the answer to this question is against the approver then there is an end of the matter, and no question as to whether his evidence is corroborated or not falls to be considered. In other words, the appreciation of an approver’s evidence has to satisfy a double test. His evidence must show that he is a reliable witness and that is a test which is common to all witnesses. If this test is satisfied the second test which still remains to be applied is that the approver’s evidence must receive sufficient corroboration. This test is special to the cases of weak or tainted evidence like that of the approver.

8….Every person who is a competent witness is not a reliable witness and the test of reliability has to be satisfied by an approver all the more before the question of corroboration of his evidence is considered by criminal courts.

In Ravinder Singh Vs. State of Haryana, , this Court has observed that:

An approver is a most unworthy friend, if at all, and he, having bargained for his immunity, must prove his worthiness for credibility in court. This test is fulfilled, firstly, if the story he relates involves him in the crime and appears intrinsically to be a natural and probable catalogue of events that had taken place. … Secondly, once that hurdle is crossed, the story given by an approver so far as the accused on trial is concerned, must implicate him in such a manner as to give rise to a conclusion of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

 Similar principles have been reiterated in Mrinal Das and Others Vs. The State of Tripura, .

 In A. Deivendran Vs. State of T.N., , the Court has registered the view that there cannot be any dispute with regard to the proposition that ordinarily an approver’s statement has to be corroborated in material particulars. Certain clinching features of involvement disclosed directly to an accused by an approver must be tested qua each accused from independent credible evidence and on being satisfied, the evidence of an approver can be accepted. The Court further observed that the extent of corroboration that is required before the acceptance of the evidence of the approver would depend upon the facts and circumstances of the case, however, the corroboration required must be in material particulars connecting each of the accused with the offence, or in other words, the evidence of the approver implicating several accused persons in the commission of the offence must not only be corroborated generally but also qua each accused but that does not mean that there should be independent corroboration of every particular circumstance from an independent source. The court proceeded to state that all that is required is that there must be some additional evidence rendering it probable that the story of the accomplice is true and the corroboration could be both by direct or circumstantial evidence. Be it noted, the said principle was stated on the basis of pronouncements in Ramanlal Mohanlal Pandya Vs. The State of Bombay, , Tribhuvan Nath Vs. The State of Maharashtra, , Ram Narain Vs. State of Rajasthan, and Balwant Kaur Vs. Union Territory of Chandigarh, .

In Chandan and Another Vs. State of Rajasthan, , the Court held that so far as the question about the conviction based on the testimony of the accomplice is concerned, the law is settled and it is established as a rule of prudence that the conviction could only be based on the testimony of the accomplice if it is thought reliable as a whole and if it is corroborated by independent evidence either direct or circumstantial, connecting the accused with the crime.

In Haroon Haji Abdulla Vs. State of Maharashtra, , the view in this regard was expressed in the following terms:

An accomplice is a competent witness and his evidence could be accepted and a conviction based on it if there is nothing significant to reject it as false. But the rule of prudence, ingrained in the consideration of accomplice evidence, requires independent corroborative evidence first of the offence and next connecting the accused, against whom the accomplice evidence is used, with the crime.

In Major E.G. Barsay Vs. The State of Bombay, , it has been observed that this Court had never intended to lay down that the evidence of an approver and the corroborating pieces of evidence should be treated in two different compartments, that is to say, the court shall first have to consider the evidence of the approver dehors the corroborated pieces of evidence and reject it if it comes to the conclusion that his evidence is unreliable; but if it comes to the conclusion that it is reliable, then it will have to consider whether that evidence is corroborated by any other evidence.

 In Renuka Bai @ Rinku @ Ratan and Another Vs. State of Maharashtra, , the Court held that the evidence of the approver is always to be viewed with suspicion especially when it is seriously suspected that he is suppressing some material facts.

In Ranjeet Singh and Another Vs. State of Rajasthan, , the Court observed that while looking for corroboration, one must first look at the broad spectrum of the approver’s version and then find out whether there is other evidence to lend assurance to that version. The nature and extent of the corroboration may depend upon the facts of each case and the corroboration need not be of any direct evidence that the accused committed the crime. The corroboration even by circumstantial evidence may be sufficient.