Report No. 69
Corroborative Evidence and Re-Establishing Credit
Sections 156-157 and Proposed Section 157A
In the Chapters immediately preceding, the discussion was mainly concerned with impeaching the credit of witnesses by various modes. When the credit of a witness is impeached or likely to be impeached, the question arises of corroboration of the witness and re-establishing his credit. When the testimony of a witness is contradicted by his previous inconsistent statements, it may become necessary to give evidence in rebuttal and to counteract the damaging ,effect of his inconsistent statements. If contradiction is important from the point of view of the adverse party, confirmation of the credit of the witness is equally important from the point of view of the party calling the witness.
Any good advocate would know where there is need for corroboration of the evidence of a particular witness. In such a case, corroboration is a matter of tactics. But the situation may be one where corroboration is required by a mandatory provision of law. Under section 34, for example, entries in books of account regularly kept in the course of business, are relevant whenever they refer to a matter in which the Court has to inquire, but such statements shall not alone be sufficient to charge a person with liability. The need for corroboration is obvious. In the absence of mandatory legal provisions, there may yet be rules which require corroboration as a matter of prudence. Finally, even where neither law nor prudence necessitates the introduction of corroborative evidence, a party may, as a matter of strategy, consider it desirable that the evidence of a particular witness may be corroborated to increase its persuasive force.
88.3. Nature of corroboration.-
Corroborative evidence of a fact, then, is that which confirms or supports other evidence of the same fact1. As a general rule, evidence does not need the support of corroborative evidence, and the court may act upon the uncorroborated evidence of one witness, even if that means disregarding more than one opposing witness2. There are, however, several exceptions to this general rule, where corroboration is required.
1. Phipson Manual of Law of Evidence, (1972), p. 246.
2. Phipson Manual of Law of Evidence, (1972), p. 246.
Corroboration of a witness's evidence may be found in the evidence of another witness. Although this is the commonest kind of corroboration, it is not the only kind; and where the law requires corroboration it does not usually specify this, or indeed any other, kind. A document or thing may supply corroboration, and so may the evidence,1 or the conduct out of court, or the person against whom the corroboration is required such as a confession by him2 or the felling of lies about the matter3, or his similar conduct on other occasions or even his silence when the gist of the evidence is repeated in his presence, where such silence can be construed as an admission. The essence of corroboration is that it must confirm, in some material particulars, the evidence standing in need of corroboration.
1. R. v. Brown, (1911) 6 Cr App R 147; R. v. Dossi, (1918) 13 Cr App R 158 (162).
2. R. v. Hook, (1858) Dears & B 606; R. v. Arnold, 1949 WN 184.
3. Credland v. Knowler, (1951) 35 Cr App R 48; Corfield v. Hodgson, (1966) 1 WLR 590.
88.5. Section 156.-
The Act deals with two types of corroboration evidence. The questions which can be put to a witness whom it is intended to corroborate as regards any relevant fact, are the subject matter of section 156. The nature of evidence that may be given to corroborate the testimony of a witness is dealt with in section 157. According to section 156, when a witness whom it is intended to corroborate gives evidence of any relevant fact, he may be questioned as to any other circumstances which he observed at or near to the time or place at which such relevant fact occurred, if the Court is of opinion that the circumstances, if proved would corroborate the testimony of the witness as to the relevant fact which he testifies.
According to the illustration to the section, an accomplice gives an account of a robbery in which he took part. He describes various incidents unconnected with the robbery which occurred on his way to and from the place where it was committed. Independent evidence of these facts may be given in order to corroborate his evidence as to the robbery itself.
88.6. Object of section 156.-
Section 156 provides for the admission of evidence given for purposes not of proving a directly relevant fact, but of confirming the truthfulness of a witness. One of the best methods to check this is to ascertain the accuracy of his evidence as to surrounding circumstances though they are not immediately connected with the relevant fact. Provision for this is made in the section which is the reverse of the process of contradiction. Contradiction impeaches the credit, while corroboration confirms it.
In fact, corroboration under section 156, or rather, questions tending to corroborate his evidence, is not the only method of confirming the truthfulness of a witness. However, so far as section 156 is concerned, its utility lies in this, that, in order to prepare the ground for corroboration, it is necessary to elicit the surrounding circumstances in the first instance from the witness himself, and it is for this purpose that the section makes a provision1
1. Cunningham Evidence, Commentary on section 156, cited by Woodroffe.
88.7. There is often no better way of proving the truthfulness of a witness than by ascertaining the accuracy of his evidence as to surrounding circumstances, though they are not so immediately connected with the facts of the case as to be in themselves relevant1. While, on the one hand, important corroboration may be given in the case of truthful witness, a valuable field for cross-examination and exposure is afforded in the case of a false witness. In order to prepare the ground for the corroboration of a witness, it is necessary to elicit these surrounding circumstances in the first instance from the witness himself, and for this the section makes a provision2.
2. Cunningham Evidence, section 156, p. 316.
88.8. Recommendation to amend section 156.-
The principle of the section hardly needs any change, but a minor point should be mentioned. The mention of a "relevant fact" in section 156 suggests a query whether the principle should not apply to facts in issue also, since section 5 makes a distinction between the two-apart from the fact that the two expressions are separately defined. It is desirable that opportunity should be taken of adding the expression of "fact in issue" before the words "relevant fact" in section 156.
88.9. Section 157.-
According to section 157, in order to corroborate the testimony of a witness, any former statement made by such witness relating to the same fact, at or about the time when the fact took place, or before any authority legally competent to investigate the fact, may be proved. Such statements were admissible before the Act,1 and this section and subsequent decisions2 apply the same principle.
(a) R. v. Bishonath Pal, (1869) 12 WR Cr 3;
(b) R. v. Bissen Nath, (1867) 7 WR Cr 31.
2. (a) Muthukumaraswami Pillai v. R., 1912 ILR 35 Mad 397;
(b) Naina Koer v. Gobardhan Singh, AIR 1919 Pat 352 (Admissibility of entries).
In effect, section 157 declares evidence of certain facts to be admissible; and if the section had not been inserted, what we have said of section 156 would apply and, the Judge would have had to determine the relevancy of these facts by reference to sections 7 and 11, and he might perhaps have been influenced by the practice in England, which has been against the admission of such evidence1. It is not incumbent on a party to give corroborative evidence of statements challenged by the other party.2 However, where the witnesses for the prosecution were proved to be untruthful in the greater part of their evidence, it would be dangerous to convict on the residue unless it was corroborated.3-4