Report No. 69
Impeachment of Credit of Witnesses
In connection with the assessment of the weight of the evidence of witnesses, we have so far been concerned with the questions that can be put to the witnesses themselves, either on relevant matters or on matters effecting their credit. There is, however, scope for another mode of impeaching the credit of witnesses. In certain cases, one witness may be allowed to testify directly as to the character of another witness or of the prosecutrix. In this sense, the credit of a witness can itself be made the subject-matter of evidence. This is possible under section 155, which deals with impeaching the credit of witnesses by independent evidence.
Section 155 shows that cross-examination is not the only mode of impeaching the credit of a witness, and the credit can also be impeached by giving independent evidence, e.g., testimony of other witnesses. There is no specific provision in any section about the impeachment of credit by contradiction of facts stated by a witness which are relevant to the issue, and this raised some doubt in a Bombay case as to whether the law in the Evidence Act is co-extensive with the law in England.1 But, under section 5, evidence may always be given of the existence or non-existence of any fact in issue or fact relevant to the issue. So, when the facts stated by a witness are relevant to the issue, independent evidence may always be given to contradict them. Or, when the questions put to a witness in cross-examination for discrediting him relate to facts directly relevant to the matters in issue, his answers may be contradicted.2
Such contradictory evidence is really disproving the testimony of the witness on a fact material to the issue by offering counter-evidence, although it is in a sense impeaching his credit in an indirect manner. As observed by Field, "the Evidence Act assumes that where the facts are relevant, evidence may be given to contradict." Of course, section 155 does not say that it is confined to impeachment of one witness by the evidence of another witness. But most cases under the section are of this type where-to use the phraseology of the Explanation to section 155-one witness declares another to be unworthy of credit.
Extrinsic evidenc.- to use a convenient phras.- is admissible to impeach the credit of the witness. Thus, if witness A has given evidence, witness B can give evidence to show that A is unworthy of credit. Theoretically, this could be an infinite process, but in practice it is not so. The Act does not contain, at present, any provision for confirming or re-establishing the credit of the witnes.- a matter which falls outside section 155.
1. See the observation in R. v. Sakharam, 11 131-1CR 169.
2. Section 155, illustration (c).
At this stage, it may be convenient to enumerate the various modes of impeaching the credit of witnesses. The credit of a witness may be impeached1-
(a) by cross-examination, (that is, by eliciting, from the witness himself, facts disparaging to him);
(b) by calling other witnesses to disprove his testimony on material points (the credit of a witness is indirectly impeached by evidence disproving the facts which he has asserted);
(c) by contradiction on matters affecting credit, through other witness;
(d) by independent proof given by other witnesses as to character.
In section 155, we are concerned with (c) and (d). According to that section, the credit of a witness may be impeached in the following ways by the adverse party, or, with the consent of the court, by the party who calls him:-
(1) By the evidence of persons who testify that they, from their knowledge of the witness, believe him, to be unworthy of credit;
(2) By proof that the witness has been bribed, or has accepted the offer of a bribe, or has received any other corrupt inducement to give his evidence;
(3) By proof of former statements of the witness inconsistent with any part of his evidence which is liable to be contradicted;
(4) When a man is prosecuted for rape or any attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character. According to the Explanation, a witness declaring another witness to be unworthy of credit may not, upon his examination-in-chief, give reasons for his belief, but he may be asked his reasons in cross-examination, and the answers which he gives cannot be contradicted, though, if they are false, he may afterwards be charged with giving false evidence.
Illustration (a) to the section presents these fact.- A sues B for the price of goods sold and delivered to B. C says that he delivered the goods to B. Evidence is offered to show that, on a previous occasion, he said that he had not delivered the goods to B.
The evidence is admissible.
In Illustration (b), A is indicated for the murder of B.
C says that B, when dying, declared that A had given B the wound of which he died.
Evidence is offered to show that, on a previous occasion. C said that the wound was not given by A or in his presence.
The evidence is admissible.
Both the illustrations fall under clause (3) of section 155, as they deal with contradiction of a witness or relevant facts.
87.3. Sections 52, 146 and 155 distinguished.-
It is desirable to point out that evidence of character under section 155 is concerned with the character of witnesses and the prosecutrix. Sections 52 and 155 deal with different matters. Section 52 prohibits character evidence in regard to the subject-matter of the suit, whereas section 155 prescribes the manner of impeaching the credit of a witness.1 Sections 138, 140, 145, 146, 148 and 154 provide for impeaching the credit of a witness by cross-examination. In particular, section 146 permits questions injuring the character of a witness to be put to him in cross-examination. Section 155 lays down a different method of discrediting a witness by allowing even independent evidence to be adduced.
1. Guntake Husseniah v. f3usetti Yerraiah, AIR 1954 AP 39 (40).
87.4. Section 155 restricts evidence permissible under section 153.-
The importance of section 155 lies in this, that, by implication, it restricts the evidence, which may be given (otherwise than in the exceptional cases mentioned in section 153) to impeach a witness's credit, to that specified in the section.1
1. Markby on Evidence, p. 109.