It is indeed true that by nature and habit, over a period of time, each individual develops certain traits which give a distinct character to his writings making it possible to identify the author but it must at the same time be realised that since handwriting experts are generally engaged by one of the contesting parties they, consciously or unconsciously, tend to lean in favour of an opinion which is helpful to the party engaging him. That is why there have been cases of conflicting opinions given by two handwriting experts engaged by opposite parties. It is, therefore, necessary to exercise extra care and caution in evaluating their opinion before accepting the same.

So courts have as a rule of prudence refused to place implicit faith on the opinion evidence of a handwriting expert. Normally courts have considered it dangerous to base a conviction solely on the testimony of a handwriting expert because such evidence is not regarded as conclusive. Since such opinion evidence cannot take the place of substantive evidence, courts have, as a rule of prudence, looked for corroboration before acting on such evidence. True it is, there is no rule of law that the evidence of a handwriting expert cannot be acted upon unless substantially corroborated but courts have been slow in placing implicit reliance on such opinion evidence, without more, because of the imperfect nature of the science of identification of handwriting and its accepted fallibility.

Ram Narain v. State of U.P.[1]– The Supreme Court held the following:

“It is no doubt true that the opinion of handwriting expert given in evidence is no less fallible than any other expert opinion adduced in evidence with the result that such evidence has to be received with great caution. But this opinion evidence, which is relevant, may be worthy of acceptance if there is internal or external evidence relating to the document in question supporting the view expressed by the expert.”

The evidence of a handwriting expert, unlike that of a fingerprint expert, is generally of a frail character and its fallibilities have been quite often noticed. The courts should, therefore, by wary to give too much weight to the evidence of a handwriting expert.[2]

Expert testimony is made relevant by Section 45 of the Evidence Act and where the Court has to form an opinion upon a point as to identity of handwriting, the opinion of a person `specially skilled’ `in questions as to identity of handwriting’ is expressly made a relevant fact. There is nothing in the Evidence Act, as for example like illustration (b) to Section 114 which entitles the Court to presume that an accomplice is unworthy of credit, unless he is corroborated in material particulars, which justifies the court in assuming that a handwriting expert’s opinion in unworthy of credit unless corroborated. The Evidence Act itself (Section 3) tells us that `a fact is said to be proved when, after considering the matters before it, the Court either believes it to exist or considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, under the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it exists’. Further, under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, the Court may presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being had to the common course of natural events, human conduct, and public and private business, in their relation to facts of the particular case. It is also to be noticed that Section 46 of the Evidence Act makes facts, not otherwise relevant, relevant if they support or are inconsistent with the opinions of experts, when such opinions are relevant.

So, corroboration may not invariably be insisted upon before acting on the opinion of an handwriting expert and there need be no initial suspicion. But, on the facts of a particular case, a court may require corroboration of a varying degree. There can be no hard and fast rule, but nothing will justify the rejection of the opinion of an expert supported by unchallenged reasons on the sole ground that it is not corroborated. The approach of a court while dealing with the opinion of a handwriting expert should be to proceed cautiously, probe the reasons for the opinion, consider all other relevant evidence and decide finally to accept or reject it.[3]

Having due regard to the imperfect nature of the science of identification of handwriting, the approach should be one of caution. Reasons for the opinion must be carefully probed and examined. All other relevant evidence must be considered. In appropriate cases, corroboration may be sought. In cases where the reasons for the opinion are convincing and there is no reliable evidence throwing a doubt, the uncorroborated testimony of a handwriting expert may be accepted.[4] There cannot be any inflexible rule on a matter which, in the ultimate analysis, is no more than a question of testimonial weight.

In State Of Maharashtra Etc. Etc vs Sukhdeo Singh And Anr.[5], the Supreme Court summed up the law in the following words:

A handwriting expert is a competent witness whose opinion evidence is recognised as relevant under the provisions of the Evidence Act and has not been equated to the class of evidence of an accomplice. It would, therefore, not be fair to approach the opinion evidence with suspicion but the correct approach would be to weigh the reasons on which it is based. The quality of his opinion would depend on the soundness of the reasons on which it is founded. But the court cannot afford to overlook the fact that the science of identification of handwriting is an imperfect and frail one as compared to the science of identification of fingerprints; courts have, therefore, been wary in placing implicit reliance on such opinion evidence and have looked for corroboration but that is not to say that it is a rule of prudence of general application regardless of the circumstances of the case and the quality of expert evidence.

[1] [1973] 2 SCC 86.

[2] Bhagwan Kaur v. Maharaj Krishan Sharma, [1973] 4 SCC 46.

[3] Murari Lal v. State of M.P., [1980] 1 SCC 704.

[4] Ibid.

[5] 1992 AIR 2100.

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