Evidence of accomplice: An Introduction
Section 133 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is the only absolute rule of law dealing with accomplice evidence. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 a guilty associate or partner in crime, or who sustains such a relation to the criminal act that he could be jointly indicted with the principal. Usually most of the crimes are committed at secluded places where there will not be any eye – witness to testify regard to these offences, and it would not be possible for the police to get sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. In such cases what police does is that it picks up one of the suspects arrested who is usually least guilty and offers to him an assurance that if he is inclined to divulge all information relating to the commission of the crime and give evidence against his own colleagues, he will be pardoned. So any such person who is picked up or who is taken by the police for the purpose of giving evidence against his own colleagues is known as an accomplice or an approver. In Davies v. Director of Public Prosecutions, the House of Lords has classified accomplices as follows: i. Participants in the crime charged (participes criminis) whether as principals or accessories before or after the fact (in felonies) or persons committing, procuring or aiding and abetting (in the case of misdemeanours). ii. Receivers in respect of the thieves from whom they receive goods, on a trial of the latter for larceny....
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