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Accomplice Evidence

Law of Evidence

Table Of Cases
1. In re, B.K Rajagopal, AIR 1944 Mad 117.
2. In re, Padmaraja Shetty, AIR 1951 Mad 746.
3. Ismail v. Emperor, AIR 1947 Lah 220.
4. Jaganath v. Emperor, AIR 1942 Oudh 221.
5. K.K Jadav v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1966 SC 821.
6. Miyabhai Pirbhai v. State, AIR 1963 Guj 188.
7. Narain Chandra Biswas v. Emperor, AIR 1936 Cal 101.
8. R v. Baskerville, (1916)2 KB 658.
9. R.K Dalmia v. Delhi Administration, AIR 1962 SC 1821.
10. Rameshwar Kalyan Singh v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1952 SC 54.
11. Ranjeet Singh v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 672.
12. Sarwan Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1957 SC 637.
13. State of Madhya Pradesh v. Sheodayal Gurudayal, AIR 1956 Nag 8.

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

Table Of Statutes
1. Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
2. Constitution of India, 1950.
3. Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

Introduction
Section 133 of the Indian Evidence Act, 18721 is the only absolute rule of law dealing
with accomplice evidence.2 However it is the opinion of some that this section is
redundant as Section 118 makes all persons competent to testify except those persons
which the section specifically bars. Moreover there is no rule which requires that the
evidence of an accomplice should be corroborated. But Section 133 might lead persons
to suppose that the Legislature desired to encourage convictions on the uncorroborated
evidence of an accomplice. This interpretation however cannot hold good in light of
Section 114 (b) which lays down the presumption that an accomplice is unworthy of
credit unless he is corroborated in material particulars. Thus owing to this conflict
between Section 114(b) and Section 133 some experts feel that Section 133 should
have been omitted and the law relating to accomplice evidence would have been the
same as it is now and the awkwardness of appearing to sanction a practice so
universally condemned would have been avoided.3
However the Courts have resolved this apparent conflict between the two sections by
harmoniously reading Sections 114(b) and 133 together and held that while it is not
illegal to act upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice it is a rule of prudence
so universally followed so as to amount almost to a rule of law that it is unsafe to act
upon the evidence of an accomplice unless it is corroborated in material respects so as
to implicate the accused.4 This in a nutshell is the core of accomplice evidence and must
be kept in mind at all times while dealing with the subject of accomplice evidence.
This project endeavours at performing a comprehensive study of Accomplice Evidence.
The first section discusses the important issues relating to accomplice evidence. It
explains who an accomplice is and analyses other aspects like burden of proof to
determine whether a witness is an accomplice or not, competency of an accomplice as a
1

Section 133- An accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person; and a conviction is
not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.
2
The procedural aspects relating to Accomplice Evidence are dealt with in Sections 306-308 and 315 of the
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
3
B. Malik et al., Law of Evidence- Volume V (Allahabad: Law Publishers India Private Limited, 1990)at
4651.
4

Ibid at 4652.

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

witness, accomplice evidence in sexual offences and the relation between accomplice
evidence and confession of a co-accused. The second section deals with the question of
corroboration which undoubtedly is the most important aspect relating to accomplice
evidence. This section explores the necessity for corroboration of an accomplices
evidence and discusses the nature and extent of corroboration required. It also deals
with the relevant case law and examines the important issue of appreciation of
accomplice evidence from the point of view of corroboration. The final section performs a
comparative analysis between English and Indian law relating to accomplice evidence
and comes to the conclusion that the law in both countries is exactly the same.
To the lay man, accomplice evidence might seem untrustworthy as accomplices are
usually always interested and infamous witnesses but their evidence is admitted owing
to necessity as it is often impossible without having recourse to such evidence to bring
the principal offenders to justice. Thus accomplice evidence might seem unreliable but it
is often a very useful and even invaluable tool in crime detection, crime solving and
delivering justice and consequently a very important part of the Law of Evidence.

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

Research Methodology
Aims and Objectives
The aim of this project is to perform a comprehensive study of Accomplice Evidence in
light of the statutory provisions and case law. This project also aims at discussing the
important issues relating to Accomplice Evidence like the meaning of accomplice and
what it signifies, the issue of corroboration of an accomplices testimony etc. It is also an
objective of this project to perform a comparative analysis of the law relating to
accomplice evidence in India and England.

Nature of Project
The project is analytical as well as descriptive in nature. However the majority of the
project is analytical in nature.

Sources of Data
The sources of data are primary as well as secondary in nature. Journals like All India
Reporter, Criminal Law Journal and All England Reporters have been used. A host of
leading textbooks relating to the Law of Evidence have also been referred to.

Scope and Limitation


The project is limited in its scope in the sense that it deals with only those issues relating
to accomplice evidence which in the opinion of the researcher are most relevant and
important owing to the extreme wide and vast scope of the topic. Moreover American
Law relating to Accomplice Evidence has not been looked at.

Research Questions
The Research Questions are:

Which are the statutory provisions dealing with Accomplice Evidence?

Who is an accomplice?

What is the relation between accomplice evidence and confession of a coaccused?

What is the nature and extent of corroboration required to corroborate the


testimony of an accomplice?

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

What is the necessity for corroborating an accomplices testimony?

How is an accomplices evidence appreciated?

What is the importance of accomplice evidence?

What are the problems and complexities associated with accomplice evidence?

What are the differences and similarities in the law relating to accomplice
evidence in India and England?

Mode of Citation
A uniform mode of citation has been adopted throughout the course of this project.

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

Accomplice Evidence- Issues And Perspectives


Who is an Accomplice?
It is extremely important to understand what the term accomplice means and signifies as
to attract Section 133 a person must be an accomplice.
The word accomplice has not been defined by the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and
should therefore be presumed to have been used in the ordinary sense by the
legislature. However the judiciary has dealt with this issue extensively and has tried to
explain comprehensively as to who an accomplice is.
An accomplice is one concerned with another or others in the commission of a crime or
one who knowingly or voluntarily cooperates with and helps others in the commission of
crime.5 It was held in R.K Dalmia v. Delhi Administration6 that an accomplice is a person
who participates in the commission of the actual crime charged against an accused. He
is to be a particeps criminis. There are two cases however, in which a person has been
held to be an accomplice even if he is not a particeps criminis. Receivers of stolen
property are taken to be accomplices of the thieves from whom they receive goods in a
trial for theft. Accomplices in previous similar offences committed by the accused on trial
are deemed to be accomplices in the offence for which the accused is on trial, when
evidence of the accused having committed crimes of identical type on other occasions
be admissible to prove the system and intent of the accused in committing the offence
charged. The Court in Jaganath v. Emperor7 explained that an accomplice is a guilty
associate or partner in crime, or who in some way or the other is connected with the
offence in question or who makes admissions of facts showing that he had a conscious
hand in the offence.8
In order to be an accomplice a person must participate in the commission of the same
crime as the accused and this he may do in various ways. In English law the modes of
5

M.L Singhal, Sir John Woodroffe and Syed Amir Ali, Law of Evidence- Volume IV (Allahabad: Law Book
Company Private Limited, 1993)at 512.
6
AIR 1962 SC 1821.
7
AIR 1942 Oudh 221.
8
An accomplice is also a person who is a guilty associate in crime or who sustains such a relation to the
criminal act that he can be jointly indicted with the defendant (principal).

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

complicity with crime are treated under the heads of principals in the first degree or
second degree and accessories before or after the fact.9
In English Law the term accomplice in its fullness includes in its meaning all the
persons concerned in the commission of the crime-principals of the first degree, second
degree and accessories before and after the fact.
In India all accessories before the fact if the participate in the preparation for the crime
are accomplices but if their participation is limited to the knowledge that crime is to be
committed they are not accomplices.10 However opinion is divided as to whether
accessories after the fact are accomplices or not. In some cases it has been held that in
India there is no such thing as an accessory after the fact whereas in some cases
accessories after the fact have been held to be accomplices. Three conditions must
unite to render one an accessory after the fact:11

The felony must be complete

The accessory must have knowledge that the principal committed the felony

The accessory must harbour or assist the principal felon.

Mere acts of charity which relieve or comfort a felon but do not hinder his apprehension
and conviction nor aid his escape, do not render one an accessory after the fact. He
must be proved to have done some act to assist the felon personally. The mere fact that
one had knowledge that a crime had been committed and that he concealed or failed to
disclose such knowledge does not render him an accomplice.12 This is because the
concealment may be owing to the witness anxiety for his own safety rather than any
desire to shield the criminal. A person who remains passively silent after obtaining

A principal of the first degree is one who actually commits the crime; A principal of the second degree is a
person who is present and assists in the perpetration of the crime; an accessory before the fact is one who
counsels, incites, connives at encourages or procures the commission of a crime. And everyone is an
accessory after the fact to a felony who, knowing a felony to have been committed by another, receives,
comforts or assists him in order to enable him to escape from punishment or rescues him from arrest for the
felony or having him in custody for the felony allows him to escape or opposes his arrest. It is to be noted
that a married woman who receives, comforts, or relieves her husband knowing him to have committed a
felony does not thereby become an accessory after the fact.
10
Narain Chandra Biswas v. Emperor, AIR 1936 Cal 101.
11
Supra note 5 at 518.
12
Id.

Accomplice Evidence
Law of Evidence

knowledge of the commission of the crime is not an accomplice. To render a person an


accomplice his participation in the crime must be criminally corrupt.13

Accomplices and Trap Witnesses, Punters, Spies, Decoys, Informers


etc.
An accomplice may have a motive for giving information as it may purchase immunity for
his offence. A spy on the other hand may be an honest man; he may think that the
course he pursues is absolutely essential for the protection of his own interests and
those of society. Thus spies are not such persons as would require corroboration of their
evidence.14
In the case of decoys or trap witnesses 15 the mere fact that a witness has acted as a
decoy or trap witness should not be the grounds for rejecting their testimony. The rule of
prudence requires that evidence of a decoy witness must find some corroboration in
material particulars. The necessity of corroboration of decoy or trap witnesses depends
on the facts and circumstances of each case.16
Thus though the evidence of spies, informers, trap witnesses etc. may be looked upon
unfavourably they cannot be treated as accomplices unless it can be actually proved that
they had instigated an offence or abetted the commission of an offence. This may
sometimes happen in their enthusiasm to detect an offence or get an offender arrested.
A punter is not in the same position as that of an accomplice. He is entitled to greater
credit and his evidence is entitled to greater value. The evidence of a punter who is
interested in securing a conviction is unworthy of credit and the principles applicable to
the testimony of an accomplice who is unworthy of credit are not in applicable to the
evidence of a punter who is unworthy of credit for different reasons but as to the extent
of corroboration it is not necessary that there should be independent corroboration in all
material particulars.17
13

Ismail v. Emperor, AIR 1947 Lah 220.


Supra note 5 at 4670.
15
If a person is induced by the police to take part in the commission of the crime for the purpose of
collecting evidence against others he is called a trap-witness.
16
M.C Sarkar et al., Law of Evidence- Volume II (New Delhi: Wadhwa and Company Law Publishers,
1999)at 2088.
17
Miyabhai Pirbhai v. State, AIR 1963 Guj 188.
14

Accomplice Evidence 10
Law of Evidence

Burden of Proof- Whether Witness is an Accomplice or not?


The question of who is to decide or how is it to be decided whether a particular witness
is an accomplice or not is in most cases answered by the witness himself by confessing
to participation, by pleading guilty to it, or by being convicted of it. The burden of proving
that a witness is an accomplice is upon the party alleging it, namely, upon the defendant.
However it has also been held that it is mainly the duty of the prosecution to bring the
accomplice character of the evidence to the notice of the court. A witness should not be
held to be an accomplice unless he confesses that he had a conscious hand in the crime
or unless he makes admissions of facts showing that he had such hand or unless there
are other grounds for believing that he was concerned in the crime.18

Competency of Accomplice as Witness


An accomplice is a competent witness provided he is not a co accused under trial in the
same case. But such competency which has been conferred on him by a process of law
does not divest him of the character of an accused.19 An accomplice by accepting a
pardon under Section 306 CrPC becomes a competent witness and may as any other
witnesses be examined on oath; the prosecution must be withdrawn and the accused
formally discharged under Section 321 CrPC before he can become a competent
witness. Even if there is an omission to record discharge an accused becomes a
competent witness on withdrawal of prosecution. Under Article 20(3) of the Constitution
of India, 1950 no accused shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. But as an
accomplice accepts a pardon of his free will on condition of a true disclosure, in his own
interest and is not compelled to give self-incriminating evidence the law in Sections 306
and 308, Code of Criminal Procedure is not affected. So a pardoned accused is bound
to make a full disclosure and on his failure to do so he may be tried of the offence
originally charged and his statement may be used against him under Section 308.

Accomplice Evidence and Confession of Co-accused


The confession of one of the co-accused cannot be used to corroborate the evidence of
an accomplice against the others, because such a confession cannot be put on a higher
footing than the evidence of an accomplice and is moreover not given on oath or subject
18
19

Supra note 16 at 2084-2085.


Ibid at 2080.

Accomplice Evidence 11
Law of Evidence
to the test of cross-examination and is guaranteed by nothing except the peril into which
it brings the speaker and which it is generally fashioned to lessen. Tainted evidence is
not made better by being corroborated by other tainted evidence20. The Madras High
Court held that in view of the provisions of Section 30 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872
the confession of a co-accused can be accepted as corroboration of an accomplices
evidence21. But the same court later pointed out that Section 30 does not affect the rule
of practice that the Courts should be loath to accept tainted evidence as a corroboration
of an approvers evidence.22 The confession of a co-accused cannot afford better or
more reliable evidence than that of an accomplice. If an accomplices evidence is tainted
evidence, the confession of a co-accused is also tainted evidence. Section 30 does not
compel a Court to accept the confession of a co-accused as corroboration of the
approvers evidence. It only empowers the Court to take into consideration such
confession as against the person jointly tried with him or against the person who makes
such a confession.

Accomplice and Sexual Crimes


In Rameshwar Kalyan Singh v. State of Rajasthan23 the Supreme Court clearly laid down
that:

The prosecutrix in a case of rape cannot be treated as an accomplice.

The Evidence Act nowhere provides that the evidence of a prosecutrix in a rape
case requires corroboration.

As a matter of practice courts have insisted on the need of corroboration of the


evidence of the prosecutrix.

Thus the Supreme Court laid down the principle that the rule which according to the
cases has hardened into one of law is not that corroboration is essential before there
can be a conviction but that the necessity of corroboration as a matter of prudence
except where the circumstances make it safe to dispense with it must be present to the
mind of the judgebefore a conviction without corroboration can be sustained. The

20

Supra note 5 at 569.


In re, B.K Rajagopal, AIR 1944 Mad 117.
22
In re, Padmaraja Shetty, AIR 1951 Mad 746.
23
AIR 1952 SC 54.
21

Accomplice Evidence 12
Law of Evidence
court also made it clear that the corroboration should be such so as to render the
prosecution story reliable and safe to act upon24
In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Sheodayal Gurudayal25 the court laid down a test to
determine whether the evidence of a prosecutrix requires to be corroborated or notThe test as to where corroboration is necessary lies in the naturalness of the story
deposed to by the prosecutrix. If there be any doubt regard its genuineness there is the
need of caution and therefore corroboration
These principles laid down by the courts should be viewed as guiding principles and not
inflexible rule of law so as to prevent injustice to the prosecutrix and the defendant.

24

Thus it is clearly the law of the land that the prosecutrix cannot be treated as an accomplice although her
evidence should be generally corroborated.
25

AIR 1956 Nag 8.

Accomplice Evidence 13
Law of Evidence

Accomplice Evidence- The Question Of Corroboration


Reading Section 133 of the Evidence Act along with Section 114(b) it is clear that the
most important issue with respect to accomplice evidence is that of corroboration. The
general rule regarding corroboration that has emerged is not a rule of law but merely a
rule of practice which has acquired the force of rule of law in both India and England.
The rule states that: A conviction based on the uncorroborated testimony of an
accomplice is not illegal but according to prudence it is not safe to rely upon
uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice and thus judges and juries must exercise
extreme caution and care while considering uncorroborated accomplice evidence.
However to understand the question of corroboration with respect to accomplice
evidence in its entirety one must look at the following aspects:

Necessity of Corroboration
An approver on his own admission is a criminal and a man of the very lowest character
who has thrown to the wolves his erstwhile associates and friends in order to save his
own skin. His evidence, therefore must be received with the greatest caution if not
suspicion. Accomplice evidence is held untrustworthy and therefore should be
corroborated for the following reasons:26

An accomplice is likely to swear falsely in order to shift the guilt from himself.

An accomplice is a participator in crime and thus an immoral person.

An accomplice gives his evidence under a promise of pardon or in the


expectation of an implied pardon, if he discloses all he knows against those with
whom he acted criminally, and this hope would lead him to favour the
prosecution.

Nature of Corroboration
Generally speaking corroboration is of two kinds. Firstly the court has to satisfy itself that
the statement of the approver is credible in itself and there is evidence other than the
statement of the approver that the approver himself had taken part in the crime.
Secondly the court seeks corroboration of the approvers evidence with respect to the
26

M. Monir, Principles and Digest of the Law of Evidence (Allahabad: Universal Book Agency, 1999)at
1367.

Accomplice Evidence 14
Law of Evidence
part of other accused persons in the crime and this evidence has to be of such a nature
as to connect the other accused with the crime. 27 The corroboration need not be direct
evidence of the commission of the offence by the accused. If it is merely circumstantial
evidence of his connection with the crime it will be sufficient. 28 The corroboration need
not consist of evidence which, standing alone, would be sufficient to justify the conviction
of the accused. If that were the law it would be unnecessary to examine an approver. All
that seems to be required is that the corroboration should be sufficient to afford some
sort of independent evidence to show that the approver is speaking the truth with regard
to the accused person whom he seeks to implicate.29

Extent of Corroboration
The Court must look at all the surrounding circumstances in order to arrive at a
conclusion whether the evidence should be supported in essential and material
particulars by evidence aliunde as to the facts deposed to by that accomplice. All
persons coming technically within the category of accomplices cannot be treated on
precisely the same footing. No general rule can be laid down on the subject. The fact
that there is no corroborative evidence is not conclusive in favour of the accused. 30 The
Courts in India should follow the English practice as to the amount of corroboration
required to support the evidence of an accomplice. His testimony should be confirmed
not only as to the circumstances of the case but also to the identity of the person. The
extent of corroboration must necessarily vary with the circumstances of each case and
also according to the circumstances of the offence charged, including the character and
antecedents of the accomplice and the degree of suspicion attached to his evidence. It
will depend much upon the nature of the crime and the degree of moral guilt attached to
its commission. However the extent of corroboration required is upto the discretion of the
judge trying the case and while exercising this discretion the judge must keep in mind
the nature of the offence, the extent of complicity of the accomplice in the crime and the
circumstances under which the accomplice makes his statement. The minimum
corroboration which the law ordinarily requires of the evidence of an accomplice is
evidence of at least one material fact pointing to the guilt of the accused person. The
27

Ratanlal and Dhirajlal, The Law of Evidence (Nagpur: Wadhwa and Company Law Publishers, 2001)at
436.
28

K.K Jadav v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1966 SC 821.


Ranjeet Singh v. State of Rajasthan, AIR 1988 SC 672.
30
Supra note 3 at 4667.
29

Accomplice Evidence 15
Law of Evidence
weight of such corroborative evidence depends upon the facts and circumstances of
each case.31
Where an accomplice changes his statement very strong corroboration would be
necessary to accept his previous version as true.
Where the accomplice is acting under constraint the corroboration required to establish
his credit worthiness will be less than if his complicity in the offence has been voluntary
and spontaneous.

The nature and extent of corroboration must necessarily vary with the circumstances of
each case and it is not possible to enunciate any hard and fast rule. But the guiding rules
laid down in R v. Baskerville32 are clear and beyond controversy. They are:

It is not necessary that there should be independent confirmation in every detail


of the crime related by the accomplice. It is sufficient if there is a confirmation as
to a material circumstance of the crime.

The confirmation by independent evidence must be of the identity of the accused


in relation to the crime, ie. confirmation in some fact which goes to fix the guilt of
the particular person charged by connecting or tending to connect him with the
crime. In other words, there must be confirmation in some material particular that
not only has the crime been committed but that the accused committed it.

The corroboration must be by independent testimony that is by some evidence


other than that of the accomplice and therefore one accomplice cannot
corroborate the other.

The corroboration need not be by direct evidence that the accused committed the
crime, it may be circumstantial.

These rules have been restated by the Supreme Court of India with the declaration that
the law is exactly the same in India.

Appreciation of Accomplice Evidence- The Corroboration Issue

31
32

Supra note 5 at 574.


(1916)2 KB 658.

Accomplice Evidence 16
Law of Evidence
The Supreme Court in Sarwan Singh v. State of Punjab33 laid down the law with respect
to assessment and appreciation of accomplice evidence and also stated several
principles and rules regarding corroboration of accomplice evidence. The Court stated:
The problem posed by the evidence given by an approver has been considered by the
Privy Council and Courts in India on several occasions. It is hardly necessary to deal at
length with the true legal position in this matter. 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 on 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 the question is against
the approver then there is an end of the matter and no question as to whether evidence
is corroborated or not needs to be considered. In other words the appreciation of an
approvers 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 approvers
evidence must receive sufficient corroboration. This test is special to the cases of weak
or tainted evidence like that of an approver
Thus these tests laid down by the Supreme Court are the guiding principles according to
which accomplice evidence must be appreciated.

33

AIR 1957 SC 637.

Accomplice Evidence 17
Law of Evidence

English Law Vs. Indian Law- A Comparative Analysis


In England there is now an increasing tendency to insist that the evidence of an
accomplice must be corroborated.34 However the fullest and most authoritative
exposition of English Law is laid down in R v. Baskerville35 where all the leading
authorities were reviewed and principles applicable were stated in clear terms by the
Court of Appeal. Lord Reading the Lord Chief Justice stated the law as follows: There is
no doubt that the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice is admissible in law But it
has long been a rule of practice at common law for the judge to warn the jury of the
danger of convicting a prisoner on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice or
accomplices and in the discretion of the Judge to advise them not to convict upon such
evidence but the Judge should point out to the jury that it is within their legal province to
convict upon such unconfirmed evidenceThe rule of practice has become virtually
equivalent to a rule of law and since the Court of Criminal Appeal came into operation
this Court has held that in the absence of such a warning by the judge the conviction
must be quashed.If after the proper caution by the judge the jury nevertheless convict
the prisoner, this Court will not quash the conviction merely upon the ground that the
accomplices testimony was uncorroborated.
Halsburys Laws of England states the law as:36
The uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice is admissible in law and a jury may
convict a defendant upon it. Where, however, a person who is an accomplice gives
evidence on behalf of the prosecution it is the duty of the trial judge to warn the jury that
while it may convict on his testimony it is dangerous to do so unless it is corroborated;
and this rule although originally one of practice now has the force of a rule of law.
In India the law relating to Accomplice Evidence is exactly the same as English Law.
Section 133 of the Evidence Act, 1872 clearly lays down that a conviction is not illegal
merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice and to
hold that the corroboration is necessary is to refuse to give effect to this provision.
34

In Archbolds Criminal Pleading it is said that it is now fully recognized to be an established practice,
virtually equivalent to a rule of law, to require corroboration of the evidence of an accomplice by
independent evidence on some material particulars going to the offence itself and implicating the accused .
35
(1916)2 KB 658.
36
Supra note 5 at 543.

Accomplice Evidence 18
Law of Evidence
The law relating to Accomplice Evidence has been considered by the Judiciary in various
cases and can be restated as follows:
The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 does not require that there should be corroboration of the
testimony of an accomplice. Although Section 114(b) says that the Court may presume
that an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless he is corroborated in material particulars
it makes it clear in Section 133 that an accomplice shall be a competent witness against
the accused person and a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the
uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. There is no doubt therefore that the
uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice is admissible in evidence.
But the rule of practice at common law which has become virtually equivalent to a rule of
law and which is exactly the law in India as far as accomplices are concerned and it is
certainly not any higher in the case of sexual offences has become ingrained in Indian
law and has the force of a rule of law in India too. The only clarification necessary in
India is that as the offences are tried by a judge without the aid of a jury the rule about
the advisability of corroboration should be present in the mind of the judge. It is
necessary that the judge should give some indication in his judgment that he had this
rule of caution in mind and should proceed to give reasons for considering it
unnecessary to require corroboration on the facts of the particular case before him and
show why he considers it safe to convict without corroboration in that particular case. It
is wrong for a judge to think that he could not, as a matter of law, convict without
corroboration.
The rule which according to the cases has hardened into one of law is not that
corroboration is essential before there can be a conviction but that the necessity of
corroboration, as a matter of prudence, except where the circumstances make it safe to
dispense with it, must be present to the mind of the judge and in jury cases must find
place in the charge before a conviction without corroboration can be sustained.

Thus to sum up, the following are the salient features of the law relating to accomplice
evidence in India and which are applicable under English law too:

Accomplice Evidence 19
Law of Evidence

According to Section 133 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 an approver is a


competent witness and conviction shall not be illegal if based upon the
uncorroborated testimony of the approver.

According to illustration (b) of Section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 the
court may presume that an approver is a man of untrustworthiness until he is
corroborated in material particulars.

Court should not ordinarily convict unless the evidence of the approver is
corroborated in material particulars qua the accused and if more than one
accused, qua each accused.

Such corroboration can be direct and circumstantial.

If the evidence of an approver is intrinsically or inherently impossible or is


otherwise unreliable or unacceptable it should be rejected straightaway without
caring to seek for corroborations.

There are several circumstances by which the reliability of an approver has to be


adjudged- one important test of reliability is that he is corroborated by other
evidence in material particulars.

The approver should be a particeps criminis on his own admission or appear to


be so by evidence.

Accomplice Evidence 20
Law of Evidence

Conclusion
The Courts in this country have by harmoniously reading Section 114(b) and Section 133
together laid down the guiding principle with respect to accomplice evidence which
clearly lays down the law without any ambiguity. This principle which the courts have
evolved is that though a conviction based upon the uncorroborated testimony of an
accomplice is not illegal or unlawful but the rule of prudence says that it is unsafe to act
upon the evidence of an accomplice unless it is corroborated with respect to material
aspects so as to implicate the accused. This guiding principle though very clear is often
faced with difficulties with respect to its implementation. While implementing this
principle different judges might have different levels of corroboration for accomplice
evidence and thus with no hard and fast rules relating to the extent and nature of
corroboration an element of subjective ness creeps in which can result in injustice.
However in spite of the problems and complexities associated with accomplice evidence
it must be borne in mind that accomplice evidence is of extreme importance and can
often play the decisive role in a criminal trial. The testimony of an accomplice can be
equated to an experts testimony. Just as a scientist may give evidence with respect to
DNA etc. an accomplice can testify about the entire background and facts and
circumstances of the offence as he was involved in the commission of the offence and
has first hand knowledge of everything related to the offence. Thus accomplice evidence
can help investigators to crack even the toughest of cases and the accomplice is often
the star prosecution witness who by his testimony can bring the whole truth out into the
open and help the Court bring the offenders to justice. Detractors of accomplice
evidence might argue that the testimony of an accomplice is unreliable and
untrustworthy as the accomplice is one who has betrayed his own people to save his
own skin. However such arguments although not baseless can be circumvented by
exercising due care and diligence while dealing with accomplices. Thus Accomplice
Evidence is a necessary evil. However its importance far outweighs its drawbacks and
the complexities it poses. Accomplice Evidence, thus, plays an extremely important role
in crime detection, crime solving and delivering justice and Accomplice Evidence in the
trial can make the difference between delivery of justice and the offender getting away
scot-free.

Accomplice Evidence 21
Law of Evidence

Bibliography
Articles
1. Justice K.N Goyal, Testimony of Accused 2000(4) Criminal Law Journal 145.

Books
1. B. Malik et al., Law of Evidence- Volume V (Allahabad: Law Publishers India
Private Limited, 1990).
2. Eric Shepherd et al., Analysing Witness Testimony (London: Blackstone Press
Limited, 1999).
3. M. Monir, Principles and Digest of the Law of Evidence (Allahabad: Universal
Book Agency, 1999).
4. M.C Sarkar et al., Law of Evidence- Volume II (New Delhi: Wadhwa and
Company Law Publishers, 1999).
5. M.L Singhal, Sir John Woodroffe and Syed Amir Ali, Law of Evidence- Volume IV
(Allahabad: Law Book Company Private Limited, 1993).
6. Ratanlal and Dhirajlal, The Law of Evidence (Nagpur: Wadhwa and Company
Law Publishers, 2001).
7. Vepa P. Sarathi, Law of Evidence (Lucknow: Eastern Book Company, 1989).