Report No. 185
Review of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872
The 69th Report of the Fifth Law Commission India made a comprehensive revision of the Evidence Act. That Report was given on May 9, 1977. However, the Ministry of Law, Justice & Co. Affairs (Govt. of India) with the approval of the Minister, by its letter D.O.No. 3273/95-9, dated September 28, 1995 and subsequent letter D.O.No. 15/1/2001(ii)- Leg.III dated 19/22 June, 2001 and F.No. 7(11)/83-IC, dated 2.5.2002, requested the Law Commission of India, to review the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 once again, in as much as in the 25 years since the submission of the 69th Report. there have been further developments in the law of Evidence.
A review of the law of evidence is, it is acknowledged by one and all, one of the most formidable and challenging tasks for any Commission. The Act was drafted in 1872 by one of the most eminent jurists of the nineteenth century Sir James Stephen. In fact, while dealing with sections 24 to 27 of the Act which are probably some of the crucial sections of the Act and which are applicable to criminal law, Sarkar (Law of Evidence, 15th Ed., 1999, page 534), stated, in his famous commentary that these sections could not perhaps be redrafted by a person who was not as eminent as Sir James Stephen. The following is the relevant quotation from Sarkar:-
"No section has perhaps raised so much controversy and doubt as section 27 and several judges have recommended the redrafting of sections 24 to 27. That formidable task is not likely to be undertaken in the near future as it would require a jurist of the eminence of Sir James Stephen."
That gives an idea of the magnitude of the task before us.
Again, the 69th Report of 1977 was prepared by the Fifth Law Commission consisted of eminent jurists, namely Hon'ble Justice P.B. Gagendragadkar (former Chief Justice of India), Justice S.S. Dhawan, Sri P.K. Tripathi, Sri S.P. Sen Verma, Sri B.C. Mitra and Sri P.M. Bakshi. That Report runs into 907 pages in small print and is probably one of the most scholarly works ever produced by the Law Commission of India in the last five decades.
The Report contains such abundant research material good enough for half a dozen post graduate students or Ph.D. scholars. The amount of industry put in by the Fifth Law Commission in preparing the 69th report by going into the very origin of every section and every principle of law, with references to comparative law in various countries, is indeed unsurpassable. Unfortunately, it was kept pending from 1977 to 1995. The task before the present Commission to review such a report is therefore extremely daunting.
The present Law Commission has, therefore, taken up review of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, in the light of the recommendations made in the 69th Report of the Law Commission. In the present Report, the Commission has also incidentally referred to the 11th Report, 14th Report, 48th Report, 60th Report, 88th Report, 91st Report, 93rd Report, 113th Report, 148th Report, the 152nd Report , 154th Report and the 172nd Report, 177th Report, 179th Report, 180th Report of the Law Commission. The Commission has also kept in mind the amendments made recently by I.T. Act, 2002, Evidence (Amendment) Act, 2003 (Act 4 of 2003), and Freedom of Information Act, 2002 (Act 5 of 2003).
We have taken up the review of the Evidence Act, 1872 in earnest and reviewed the development of the law in our country and abroad after 1977 and considered the judgments of our Supreme Court and the High Courts between 1977 and 2003. We have also referred to the views of leading authors on the subject in UK and USA.
The recommendations in the 69th Report can be categorized in five groups, as follows:-
(1) Provisions that were not proposed to be amended;
(2) Provisions of the Act that were proposed to be partially amended;
(3) Provisions that were proposed to be substituted in their entirety;
(4) Provision that were proposed to be deleted; and
(5) Provision that were proposed to be inserted.
We have gone into each of the recommendations made in the 69th Report. We have, in our turn, examined the provisions of the Act afresh in the light of subsequent developments in the law in our country and abroad and, also keeping in mind, the present scenario in the country, both in regard to criminal and civil litigation. While we have not accepted some of the amendments proposed in the said 69th Report we have accepted some others with or without modifications.
We have proposed certain amendments to some of the provisions. We have also recommended insertion of certain new provisions while not accepting some of the recommendations in the 69th Report for insertion of new provisions. The initial draft of the Report was reviewed by Sri Vepa P. Sarathi, former Member of the Law Commission and author and a leading authority on Law of Evidence and several of his suggestions have been accepted though a few of them have not been accepted. We are grateful to him for his suggestions.
A summary of the recommendations made in this Report is enclosed with the Report. These recommendations would, it is hoped, be of importance for the administration of civil and criminal justice in our country. The recommendations made in the 69th Report would have served the Courts well if only they had been implemented soon after the Report was given.
The Law Commission hopes that at least the recommendations in the present Report on such a vital subject, which is the life-blood of our judicial administration, will be taken up and implemented at an early date.