Author: Anubhav Bijalwan
The interaction between Medicine and the Law has been on a surge in recent years. Medical science gives clue as to how the death of the person, how the injury, was caused, while the law prosecutes a person for killing and injuring other. With the evolution of medical science, this interplay is bound to increase. The medical and scientific evidences can play a major and decisive role in identifying the accused and proving his guilt. There was much debate around the use of these methods in the criminal justice system in the aftermath of much talked about judgment of Supreme Court in Selvi v State of Karnataka.
If we talk about the medical evidence, it essentially means evidence given by a medical expert which is in turn based upon his skills and professional experience. However, medical evidence are only corroborative evidence and cannot outweigh the oral evidence produced during the trial. It is so because it is an evidence of opinion rather than an evidence of fact as per section 45 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Provisions Pertaining to Medical Evidence in Statutes–
Indian Evidence Act –
Section 45 of Indian Evidence Act provides an exception to the general principle of the rule of court of law that evidence of third person is not admissible in court of law. It provides that when the court has to form an opinion in a particular matter so as to arrive at a conclusion and is to unable to arrive at one, the court may take the opinion of an expert of that field. Section 45 enumerates five fields from the court may call the experts for opinion: science, arts, fingerprints, handwriting and foreign laws.
The provision of admissibility of expert opinion is based upon the latin maxim cullibet in sua arte est credendum i.e. a person with special knowledge in his or her field must be trusted and relied upon by the court on a particular point related to that field.
Absence of Expert Is not Indispensable to the prosecution case –
Supreme Court in Vineet Kumar Chauhan v State of Uttar Pradesh held that it cannot be laid down as a general rule that an expert opinion is required for the prosecution case irrespective of the quality of the direct evidence present in the case. When the direct evidence is of an unimpeachable nature and the other evidence are in consonance with direct evidence, expert opinion may not be essential.
Expert opinion must be corroborated –
In Muralilal v State of Madhya Pradesh, Supreme court held that there is no rule that nor expert opinion of a handwriting expert can be acted upon unless corroborated, but having due regard to the imperfect nature of the science of handwriting identification, the approach should be of caution. Reasons for the opinion must be examined and all other evidence must also be taken into consideration. As it has been held by the court that it will be highly unsafe to convict a person on the sole testimony of an expert.
This is so because the expert opinion depends upon his skills which in turn is dependent upon the developmental stage of the field to which he belongs to. For example, the field of fingerprint is highly developed one and therefore the probability of error is minimum in that case. But the field of handwriting recognition is one of the most recent development and hence the high probability of errors in the opinion given in the court of law.
However, even in cases of highly developed fields also, the expert opinion needs to be seen in the light of other evidence produced in the case. For example, in Prakash v State of Karnataka court held that when the manner of taking the fingerprint is not clear i.e. it is not proved how fingerprints of accused got into the thing from where the fingerprints were taken, then even if they matched, the report is not credible.
Provisions of the Constitution –
Our Constitution framers were well aware of the rights of the individuals and the potential of the state to infringe them. The Constitution has provided its citizens with a number of rights so as to protect them against the possible atrocities of the state. The rights of individuals with regard to use of medical evidence in a criminal trial are as follows:
ARTICLE 20(3) –
Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution talks about self-incrimination and provides that “no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.” This provision is based on the Latin maxim nemo tenetur prodere accussarese ipsum meaning no man is bound to accuse himself.
For the application of article 20(3), the prerequisite is that the formal charges should have been framed against the person claiming the protection and it is immaterial that subsequently, he became an accused in the case. Now, section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act provides that when some fact was discovered in consequence of the information given by the accused, the information to the extent it relates to facts discovered may be proved and it is immaterial whether that information amounts to confession or not, Therefore, there seems to be a prima facie conflict between section 27 of Indian Evidence Act and article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution.
After the various conflicting decisions of various high courts, it was decided by the Supreme Court in State of Bombay v KatheKalu that the two provisions have to be reconciled. The question which needs to be answered is whether or not the accused has been compelled to make the statements. If the information has been voluntarily received by the accused it will not be hit by article 20(3) and will be relevant under section 27. But if such information has been discovered by compulsion, that should be excluded from the evidence as it is contrary to article 20(3).
ARTICLE 21 –
Article 21 is considered to be the most important fundamental right of the Constitution and provides that “no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”. From the judgment of Maneka Gandhi v Union of India the Indian judiciary has expanded the scope of article 21 to much extent. The court has held that right to life includes right to live with human dignity and would include all those aspects of life which would go to make a man’s life meaningful and worth living. Recently, the Supreme Court has held Right to Privacy to be a fundamental right under the right to life.
Based on the expanded horizon of article 21 of the Indian Constitution, Supreme Court in Selvi v State of Karnataka held that narco-analysis, brain mapping and lie detector tests, without the consent of the accused, are violative of his right to life and personal liberty.
In the aftermath of this judgment scope of medical evidence has restricted to a larger extent and the judgment was also criticized for making the criminal justice system much accused friendly and harsher for victim or people who obey law.
Medical Evidence v Ocular Evidence –
The general rule of evidence is that the medical evidence is only corroborative evidence and it cannot outweigh the testimony of a respected and independent witness. There may be cases when the medical evidence and the ocular evidence are in direct conflict with each other. Either of the two courses can be taken in that case:
(i) court can rely upon the ocular evidence unreservedly and may hold that the witnesses have merely exaggerated the incidence – this method can be adopted in the cases when the ocular evidence is above reproach and there is no reasonable apprehension for the false implication of the accused
(ii) court may rely upon the medical evidence and test the ocular evidence in the light of medical evidence – this recourse is taken when the ocular evidence is not of that veracity and medical evidence is not open to any doubt or suspicion.
Thus, in case of conflict between the medical evidence and ocular evidence, the ocular evidence is to be discarded. Even the court has said that if the evidence of the prosecution witness is totally inconsistent with the medical evidence, this is the most fundamental defect in the prosecution case and unless reasonably explained, it is sufficient to discredit the entire case of prosecution. However, for the ocular evidence to be discarded, it must be in direct conflict with medical evidence. In other words, unless the medical evidence completely rules out the prosecution story, the oral evidence if otherwise reliable cannot be rejected.
AIR 2010 SC 1974.
AIR 2008 SC 780.
AIR 1980 SC 531.
Mahmood v state of UP AIR 1976 SC 69.
AIR 2014 SC (Supp) 1757.
M P Sharma v Satish Sharma AIR 1954 SC 300.
AIR 1961 SC 1808.
(1978) 1 SCC 248.
Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi and Others (1981) SSC 608.
Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr.vs Union Of India And Ors.WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO 494 OF 201.
AIR 2010 SC 1974.
Wilayat Khan v State of UP AIR 1953 SC 122.
Ram Narain v State of Punjab AIR 1975 SC 1727; Amar Singh v State of Punjab.AIR 1987 SC 826.
VahulaBhusan v State of Tamil Nadu (1989) 1 SCJ 255.
About the Author: Anubhav is a third-year BALLB(Hons) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow.