What is the evidentiary value of dying declaration?

In Kushal Rao vs The State Of Bombay case the Supreme Court of India observed that the provision of s. 32(I) of the Indian Evidence Act makes the statement in a dying declaration as to the cause of death and the circumstances that brought it about relevant, is an exception to the general rule of exclusion of hearsay evidence and evidence untested by cross-examination. From the spirit of the law it is clear that the purpose of this law is to keep the principle of “Leterm Mortem” which means “words said before death” & in a legal term it is called ‘Dying Declaration,’ are reliable.

In the above mentioned case, the Supreme Court had further observed that the special sanctity which the Legislature attaches to such a declaration must be respected unless such declaration can be shown not to have been made in expectation of death or to be otherwise unreliable and any evidence adduced for this purpose can only detract from its value but not affect its admissibility.

The case of Kushal Rao v. State of Bombay set several precedents for future cases involving the dying declaration.

  • First, a dying declaration which has been recorded by a competent Magistrate in the proper manner i.e. in the form of questions and answers, &, 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 oral testimony. The court observed that dying declaration that depends upon oral testimony may suffer from all the infirmities of human memory & human character.
  • Second, there is no absolute rule of law that a dying declaration cannot be the sole basis of conviction unless corroborated and therefore, a true & voluntary declaration can be sole basis of conviction, provided, it is corroborated.
  • Third, a dying declaration stands on the same footing as other piece of evidence. Therefore, it has to be judged in the light of surrounding circumstances and with reference to the principle governing the weight of evidence.
  • Fourth, a dying declaration is not a weaker kind of evidence than any other piece of evidence; however, each case must be determined on its own facts and the court must keep in view the circumstances in which the dying declaration was made.
  • Fifth, the court must test the reliability of the dying declaration for which it has to keep in view the circumstances like the opportunity of the dying man for observation. For instance, whether there was sufficient light if the crime was committed in the night. The court must also test whether the capacity of man to remember the facts stated had not been impaired at the time he was making the statement by circumstances beyond his control.
  • Sixth, the court must also test whether the statement has been consistent throughout if he had several opportunities of making a dying declaration apart from the official record of i. Also, the statement had been made at the earliest opportunity & was not the result of tutoring by interested party.

What evidentiary value does a dying declaration have?

Whereas Kushal Rao vs The State of Bombay case set the importance of dying declaration and what is the right process to record it to have value in the court of law, the case of K.R. Reddy v. Public Prosecutor showed the evidentiary value of dying declaration. In this judgment the Supreme Court of India observed that the dying declaration is undoubtedly admissible under section 32. Also, it not being statement on oath could be tested by cross-examination.

In the case the observation made by the apex court has since then become vital precedent for the future cases. For instance, the court held that the scrutiny & the closest circumspection of the statement before acting upon it must be done by the courts trying the cases that involve dying declaration.

It was further held that while great solemnity and sanctity is attached to the words of a dying man because a person on the verge of death is not likely to tell lies or to connect a case as to implicate an innocent person, yet the court has to be on guard against the statement of the deceased being a result of either tutoring, prompting or a product of his imagination.

Therefore, according to the Supreme Court of India the court must be satisfied that the deceased was in a fit state of mind to make the statement after he or she had a clear opportunity to observe & identify his assailants. It must be made sure that the deceased was making the statement without any influence or rancor.

Least but not the last, the Supreme Court of India in the case held that once the court is satisfied that the dying declaration is true and voluntary, it can be sufficient to found the conviction even without further corroboration.