Ram Narain Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh
 INSC 75 (5 April 1973)
MATHEW, KUTTYIL KURIEN
CITATION: 1973 AIR 2200 1973 SCR (3) 911 1973
SCC (2) 86
R 1992 SC2100 (30)
Indian Evidence Act, 1872, s.45--Handwriting
Expert-Sole testimony for conviction--Courts below comparing handwriting for
themselves and agreeing with Expert-No illegality in conviction-Sentence-Lapse
of time--Sentence reduced to period already undergone.
The appellant was convicted of an offence
under s. 384 read with s. 511 Indian Penal Code. The conviction was solely
based on the conclusion that the two anonymous letters demanding ransom for the
kidnapped boy had been written by him. The appellant having categorically
denied his authorship of those letters a handwriting expert was produced in
support of the prosecution case, and believing the expert testimony the three
courts below agreed in convicting the appellant. In this Court the sole
question for consideration was as to the legality and propriety of the
appellant's conviction on the, uncorroborated testimony of the handwriting
expert. It was urged by the appellant that it was not safe to record a finding
about a person's handwriting merely on the basis of comparison because the
opinion of the handwriting expert is not conclusive.
Dismissing the appeal.
HELD : (i) The legal position enunciated in
Fakhruddin's case cannot be said to be inconsistent with the ratio of anyone of
the earlier decisions to which reference has been made therein. [916A]
Fakhruddin v. State of Madhya Pradesh, A.I.R. 1967 S.C.
1326, Ram Chandra v. State of U.P., A.I.R.
1957 S.C. 381, Ishwari Prasad Misra v. Mohammad Isa, A.I.R. 1963 S.C. 1728 and Shashi
Kumar Banerjee, v. Subodh Kumar Banerjee, A.I.R.
1964 S.C. 529, referred to.
It is no doubt true that the opinion of a
hand-writing 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. If after-
comparison of the disputed and the admitted writings by the Court itself when
the Presiding Officer Is familiar with the language, it is considered safe to
accept the opinion of the expert, then the conclusion so arrived at cannot be
assailed on special leave on the, mere ground that comparison of handwriting is
generally considered as hazardous and inconclusive.
In the present case the Trial Magistrate, the
Sessions Judge who heard the appeal and the High Court themselves compared the
writing with the help of the expert's opinion and came to the conclusion that
the disputed handwriting tallied with the specimen handwriting of the
appellant. There was, therefore no ground for interference by this Court with
the appellant's conviction. [916B] (ii) Though a large number of factors fall
for consideration in determining the appropriate sentence the broad object of
punishment 9 1 2 of an accused found guilty in progressive civilized societies
is to impress on the guilty party that commission of crime does not pay and
that it is both against his individual interest and also against the larger
interest of the society to which he belongs. The sentence to be appropriate
should, therefore, be neither too harsh nor too lenient. The sentence of
rigorous imprisonment for one year imposed in the present case would not in the
normal course be considered to be too harsh but considerable time had elapsed
since the commission of crime and the appellant had been on bail granted by
this Court since January, 1970. To send him back to jail after so many years
would be somewhat harsh. [917B] [Sentence reduced to period already undergone
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeal No. 6 of 1970.
Appeal by special leave from the judgment and
order dated October 10, 1969 of the Allahabad High Court in Criminal Rev. No.
2093 of 1967.
J. P. Goyal and R. K. Bhatt, for the
O. P. Rana, for the respondent.
The Judgment of the Court was delivered by
DUA, J. : This appeal by special leave is directed against the judgment and
order of a learned Single Judge of the Allahabad High Court dated October 6,
1969 dismissing the appellant's revision from the order of a 11 Temporary
Sessions Judge, Kanpur dated November 8, 1967 dismissing his appeal from his
conviction by a learned Magistrate under ss. 384/511 I.P.C. and sentence of
rigorous imprisonment for one year.
On August 15,1964, Mannu, a boy about 5 years
old, was found missing from the house of the appellant's relation Shri Gajendra
Natth (P.W. 19), an Excise Inspector, residing in Mohalla Ashok Nagar, Kanpur
within the jurisdiction of police station Sisamau the ,Following day. A report
was lodged at the police station Sisamau about this fact and a notice was also
published in the newspapers and hand-bills were distributed announcing a reward
of Rs. 501/- for anyone who furnished the clue of the missing child's
A post-card (Ext. Ka-1) bearing post office
seals dated 21- 8-1964 and later an inland letter (Ext. Ka-2) bearing the date
October 21, 1964 were received by Gajendra Nath demanding, in the first letter
a ransom of Rs. 1,000/-, and in the second a ransom of Rs. 5,000/- for the
return of the boy. in December, 1964, a trainee of the local I.T.I., Kanpur,
Yashpal Singh by name, after reading the announcement of the reward, made
attempts to trace the whereabouts of the missing child. Having found a clue, he
gave the necessary information to the, father of the, child regarding his
whereabouts. Thereupon, on January 11, 1965 the child was recovered by Rahasbehari,
the grand-father of the child, from 913 the house of Ganga Bux Singh and
Chandrabushan Singh in village Pandeypur District Kanpur. The investigation of
the case revealed that the appellant, Ram Narain, was also responsible for
kidnapping and wrongfully confining the said child and that it was he who had
sent the two anonymous letters (Exts. Ka-1 and K-2) demanding ransom. All the
three persons were prosecuted under ss. 363, 468 and 384/51 1, I.P.C. The trial
court convicted Ganga Bux Singh and Chandrabushan Singh under s. 368, I.P.C.
and Ram Narain appellant under ss. 384/511, I.P.C. On appeals by the convicted
persons, the learned 11 Temporary Sessions Judge, Kanpur, came to the
conclusion that the offence under s.368, I.P.C. had not been established beyond
reasonable doubt with the result that Ganga Bux Singh and Chandrabushan were
acquitted. The appellant, Ram Narain's conviction for an offence under ss.
384/511, I.P.C. was, however, upheld.
This conviction was solely based on the
conclusion that the two anonymous letters had been written by him. The
appellant having categorically denied his authorship of those letters, Shri R.
A. Gregory, a hand-writing expert was produced in support of the presecution
case. Believing his testimony that the appellant was the writer of those two
letters, all the three courts below have agreed in convicting the appellant.
The short question raised before us relates
to the legality and properiety of the appellant's conviction on the
uncorroborated testimony of the hand-writting expert. The High Court relied in
support of the appellant's conviction on the decision of this Court in
Fakhruddin v. State of Madhya Pradesh(1) in which after referring to four of
its earlier decisions in, (i) Ram Chandra v. State of U.P.(2) (ii) Ishwari
Prasad Misra v. Mohammad Isa(3) (iii) Shashi Kumar Banerjee v. Subodh Kumar
Banerjee(4) (iv) State of Gujarat v. Chhotalal Patni(5) this Court rejected the
contention that the Court dealing with the authorship of a writing could not
observe for itself the similarity and differences between the admitted and the
disputed hand- writings to verify whether or not the conclusions of the
handwriting expert were proper. Then, after referring to ss. 45, 47 and 73 of
the Indian Evidence, Act, this Court observed :- "Both under S. 45 and S.
47 the evidence is an opinion, in the former by a scientific comparison and in
the latter on the basis of familiarity resulting from frequent observations and
experience. In either case the Court must satisfy itself by such means as are
open that the opinion may be acted upon.
One such means open to the Court is to apply
its own observation to the (1) A. 1. R. 1967 S. C. 1326.
(2) A. 1. R. 1957 S. C. 381.
(3) A. 1. R. 1963 S. C. 1728.
(4) A. 1. R. 1964 S. C. 529.
(5)  1 S. C. R. 249 914 admitted or
proved writings and to compare them with the disputed one, not to become an
handwriting expert but to verify the premises of the expert in the one case an
to appraise the value of the opinion in the other case.
This comparison depends on an analysis of the
characteristics in the admitted or proved writings and the finding of the same
characteristics in large measure in the disputed writing. In this way the
opinion of the deponent whether expert or other is subjected to scrutiny and
although relevant to start with becomes probative. Where an expert's opinion is
given, the Court must see for itself and with the assistance of the expert come
to its own conclusion whether it can safely be held that the two writings are
by the same person. This is not to say that the Court must play the role of an
expert but to say that the Court may accept the fact proved only when it has
satisfied itself on its own observation that it is safe to accept the opinion
whether of the expert or other witness.
Therefore, to satisfy ourselves whether the
testimony of the handwriting expert is acceptable or not, we sent for the
record and compared the disputed writings with some comparable material. There
were two such writings which were claimed as standard. One was a register
maintained at the office of the Association in which there was a signature in
three places in Hindi which purported to be that of Fakhruddin (Exhibit P-56).
The other was a writing which Fakhruddin made to the dictation of the Police Officer
in Jail (Ex.P.61). These were, of course, not admitted by Fakhruddin and the
question had to be first decided which of the two or 'both could be said to be
approved standard material. Mr. Kohli urged that Ex. P-56 could not be so
treated as there was no proof that the signatures were made by Fakhruddin. In
this submission Mr. Kohli is right. The evidence of Tahir Ali, P.W.14 which has
been relied upon is not definite on this point. He does not say that the
signatures were of Fakhruddin who was the accused in the case.
He only says that the persons whose
signatures were made in the register, signed it and this leaves the matter at
large. There is, however, proof that the other writing was, made , Fakhruddin
the appellant. The Sub- Inspector, P.W. 33 took the precaution of having two
witnesses P.Ws. Nos. 16 and 27. Of these P.W. 16 did not identify the appellant
as the writer but the other 915 P.W. 27 did. Exhibit P-61, therefore, furnishes
the necessary comparative material." According to the appellant's learned
counsel, the High Court has not properly understood the principle of law laid
down by this Court in its various decisions. Our attention was invited to
Chhota Lal Patni's case (supra) where it is observed :-- "A Court is
competent to compare the disputed writing of a person with others which are
admitted or proved to be his writings. It may not be safe for a Court to record
a finding about, a person's writing in a certain document merely on the basis
of comparison, but a Court can itself compare the writings in order to
appreciate properly the other evidence produced before it in that regard.
The opinion of a handwriting expert is also
relevant in view of s. 45 of the Evidence Act, but that too is not conclusive.
It has also been held that the sole evidence of a handwriting expert is not
normally sufficient for recording a definite finding about the writing being of
a certain person or not. It follows that it is not essential that the
handwriting expert must be examined in a case to prove or disprove the disputed
writing. It was therefore not right for the learned Judge to consider it unsafe
to rely upon the evidence of the complainant in a case like this, i.e., in a
case in which no handwriting expert had been examined in support of his
statement." It was emphasised by the appellant's learned counsel that
according to this decision it is not safe to record a finding about a person's
writing merely on the basis of comparison because the opinion of a hand-whiting
expert is not conclusive and his evidence is normally insufficient for
recording a definite finding about the writing being of a certain person or
not. Indeed the appellant's contention was that in Fakhruddin's case (supra)
though reference was made to this decision, its ratio was not properly
appreciated and the decision in Fakhruddin (supra) is not in conformity with
this earlier decision. We are unable to agree with this submission. Reference
was also made by the appellants counsel to Shashi Kumar (supra) where it is
observed that the expert evidence as to hand-writing is opinion evidence and it
can rarely, it ever, take the place of substantive evidence and therefore
before acting on it the courts usually look for corroboration either by direct
or circumstantial evidence. In Shashi Kumar (supra), it may be pointed out,
this Court found all the probabilities against the expert opinion and the
direct testimony of two witnesses accepted by this Court also wholly
inconsistent with that opinion.
916 In our view, the legal position
enunciated in Fakhruddin (supra) cannot be said to be inconsistent with the
ratio of any one of the earlier decisions to which reference has been made
therein. How it is no doubt true that the opinion of a hand-writing 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. If after comparison of
the disputed and the admitted writings by the Court itself, when the Presiding
Officer is familiar with that language, it is considered safe to accept the
opinion of the expert then the conclusion so arrived at cannot be assailed on
special leave on the niece ground that comparison hand-writing is generally
considered as hazardous and inclusive and that the opinion of the hand-writing
expert has to be received with considerable caution. The question in each case
falls for determination on the appreciation of evidence and unless some serious
infirmity or gave failure of justice is shown, this Court would normally
refrain from reappraising the matter on appeal by special leave. the Trial
Court in this case agreeing with the principle of law enunciated by this Court
compared the relevant documents and arrived at the conclusion that they have
all been written in one hand. The learned 11 Temporary Sessions Judge on
appeal, after referring to the comparison of the disputed and specimen writings
by the 'trial Magistrate. himself compared those writings with the help of the
expert's opinion and his report and came to a definite conclusion "that
the disputed hand-writings tally with the specimen hand-writing". In the
High Court also the learned Single Judge, after referring to the decision in
Fakhruddin (supra), observed as follows :- "I have myself made a
comparison of the specimen writing of the applicant with the writing contained
in the two letters. I have not the least doubt that the writing in the
post-card and he writing in the admitted writing of the applicant are the same.
Thus, I have no reason to differ from the finding recorded by the courts
below." No serious attempt was made on behalf of the appellant to find
fault with the approach of the three courts below.
There is, therefore, no ground made out for
interference by this Court with the appellant's conviction. Unfortunately, the
record is not before us otherwise we would have also tried to examine for
ourselves the disputed and the specimen hand-writings. However, in view of the
concurrent decisions' of the three courts below, we did not consider it
necessary to adjourn the hearing of this case to have the documents before us for
917 The next question is one of sentence
which is always a matter of some difficulty. It generally poses a complex
problem which requires a working compromise between the competing views based
on reformative, deterrent and retributive theories of punishments. Though a
large number of factors fall for consideration in determining the appropriate
sentence, the broad object of punishment of an accused found guilty in
progressive civilized societies is to impress on the guilty party that commission
of crimes does not pay and that it is both against his individual interest and
also against the larger interest of the society to which he belongs. The
sentence to be appropriate should, therefore, be neither too harsh nor too
lenient. In the case, in hand the imposition of rigorous imprisonment for one
year upheld by the appellate and the revisional courts may not have been
considered by us in the normal course to be too harsh calling for interference
under Article 136 of the Constitution. The difficulty now posed is that the
appellant is on bail and he has served out only one month's sentence. He was
originally sentenced by the trial Court on. April 17, 1967 for the offence
committed as far back as 1964. The proceeding against him have lasted for 'more
than 8 years. He was released on bail by this Court in January, 1970. To, send
him back to jail now after the lapse of so, many years for serving out the
remaining period of sentence seems to us on the facts and circumstances of this
case to be somewhat harsh. The offence of attempted exertion undoubtedly
reflects to some extent anti-social depravity of mind but the attempt did not
succeed. We, therefore, consider that on the facts and circumstances of this
case the ends of substantial justice would be amply met it We now reduce the
sentence of imprisonment to that already undergone but also impose fine of Rs.
700/- and in default of payment of fine direct that he undergoes rigorous
imprisonment for a period of three months. We order accordingly. The appeal is
thus accepted in part as just stated.
G.C. Appeal allowed in part.