27 April 2015

Myth Buster #4

Authored by Pujita Makani

What is the evidentiary value of a child's witness testimony?

Witness testimonies are one of the prime ingredients used for laying the foundation of evidence in a criminal case. The credibility of witnesses is definitely of key concern during a trial in order to dispense justice. What if a child steps into the witness box? Would his/her statements pass the test of credibility and be considered to possess evidentiary value?  
This issue was discussed and the relevant case law were amalgamated in the Supreme Court judgement of State of M.P. v. Ramesh and Anr.[1] In short, yes. Children’s testimonies do possess evidentiary value and need not even be corroborated! Merely because the evidence was obtained from a child witness does not vitiate it. Of course there are ifs and buts to this stance…
The competence of a witness is determined in accordance with the provisions of Section 5 of Indian Oaths Act, 1873 and Section 118 of Evidence Act, 1872. Every witness must be able to understand the questions and provide rational answers, this requirement is pretty straightforward. However in the case of a child witness, the court[2] observed that children are prone to be ‘tutored’ or instructed but this cannot be the sole reason to discredit their testimony. There must be clear evidence that the statements deposed were tailored to suit the party.

There are few pointers in determining the competence of a child:

Whether he/she has the capacity to understand the weight of his statements and the consequences thereof, whether he is able to comprehend the obligation of an oath and distinguish between right and wrong.

After careful scrutiny, in the absence of any obstacle, the evidence must be accepted[3]. If however the statement is partly ‘tutored’ the court may severe it from the rest and consider the untutored part[4].

Hope this post has made you aware of the legal and evidentiary stance on testimonies deposed by child witnesses.

[1] 2011(2)ACR1969(SC)
[2] Mangoo & Anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1995 SC 959
[3] Himmat Sukhadeo Wahurwagh & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2009 SC 2292
[4] Gagan Kanojia & Anr. v. State of Punjab, (2006) 13 SCC 516

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