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Retracted Confession in the Indian Evidence Act


A confession made by an accused person is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding, if the making of the confession appears to the Court to have been caused by any inducement, threat or promise, having reference to the charge against the accused person, proceeding from a person in authority. A retracted confession is a statement made by an accused person before the trial begins, by which he / she admits to have committed the offence, but which he/she repudiate at the trial. A confession is said to be retracted only where the accused admits that he/she made the confession and then denies the truth to what is stated therein. A retracted confession, if believed to be true, may form the basis of conviction but as a rule of caution it is unsafe to base a conviction even of the maker on a retracted confession alone without some independent corroboration.[1]

Retraction of confessions is an important principle under the Indian evidence law. Moreover, it has got a strong foundation as the right to retract a statement flow from the article 20(3) of the constitution of India, which provides the right against the compulsion to be witness against oneself. The application of this provision of the constitution extends to statements made during police interrogations as well.[2] Moreover, to withdraw from what has been said previously is to be interpreted as an extension of civil liberty.[3]

Critical Analysis of Retracted Confession

The author has tried to critically analyse the scope and objective of retracted confession under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA) and the Constitution of India with the help of three sub topics : i) Evidentiary value of retracted confessions and ii) The importance of corroboration.

Evidentiary value of retracted confession

Section 24 of the IEA makes it clear that a confession will be irrelevant if not made freely and voluntarily. No inquisitor should offer any inducement, threat or promise to the accused.[4] This is further augmented by Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. which requires a Magistrate to explain to the person making the confession that he is not bound to make a confession, and if he does so, it may be used as evidence against him.[5] This concept of voluntariness is a common law principle,[6] and the Indian Penal Code has created a safeguard for the prisoner against threat and torture by drawing from this common law principle. This law is claimed to be an administrative measure designed to eradicate the evil modes of obtaining confessions that was prevalent in the past, which included various methods of torture.[7]

The legal approach to be taken by courts when they are to decide on the basis of a retracted confession has been discussed in a number of cases. Hidayatullah, C. J., on behalf of a three judge bench in the case of Bharat vs. State of U. P.[8] stated that it is safe to rely on a confession when the voluntary character and truth of the statement are accepted. Its voluntary nature depends on whether there was any threat, inducement or promise, and its truth can be determined by examining the entire prosecution case. A retracted confession however is treated differently. As laid down in an earlier case of Subramania Gounden vs. The State of Madras[9], a retracted confession may be taken into account by a court, however, it must look for the reasons for making the confession and the reasons for its retraction. These reasons must be weighed in order to determine whether the retraction affects the voluntary nature of the confession. It can be said that a true confession, which is made voluntarily, may be acted upon, even with slight evidence

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 makes no distinction whatsoever between a retracted confession and an unretracted confession and both are equally admissible and may be taken into consideration against the accused though it may be that less weight would be attached to a retracted confession.[10]

The Court further in the case of State (N.C.T. of Delhi) vs. Navjot Sandhu and Ors.[11] summarized the evidentiary value of retracted confession and referred to Bharat vs. State of U.P.[12] It held that when the voluntary character of the confession and its truth are accepted, it is safe to rely on it. Indeed, a confession, if it is voluntary and true and not made under any inducement or threat or promise, is the most patent piece of evidence against the maker. Retracted confession, however, stands on a slightly different footing.

Haroom Hazi Abdulla vs. State of Maharashtra[13] observed that a “retracted confession must be looked upon with greater concern unless the reasons given for having made it in the first instance are on the face of them false.” There was a further observation in the same paragraph that retracted confession is a weak link against the maker and more so against a co-accused. With great respect to the Justice Hidayatullah, the comment that the retracted confession is a “weak link against the maker” goes counter to a series of decisions. The observation must be viewed in the context of the fact that the Court was concentrating on the confession of the co-accused rather than the evidentiary value of the retracted confession against the maker.

The importance of corroboration

It is only as a matter of prudence and caution which has sanctioned itself into a rule of law that retracted confession cannot be made the sole basis of conviction unless it is corroborated. In 1957, in the case of Pyare Lal vs. State of Assam[14], when the same question came up before the court, it was held that a retracted confession may still be used as a basis for conviction. Its corroboration would be a matter of prudence and not of law. In Bharat vs. State of Uttar Pradesh[15] it was held that a confession is a substantive piece of evidence provided that it was made voluntarily. However, when a confession is retracted the Court has to act cautiously and require a greater corroboration of the confession.

The corroboration of evidence required to attach value to a retracted statement, does not necessarily have to validate each and every circumstance mentioned in the statement, but just so much so as to substantiate the general trend of the confession is substantiated by some evidence which would tally with what is contained in the confession[16] i.e. corroborated in general particulars.

Conclusion and Suggestions

A confession is the most indispensable part of evidence against a person. However, once it is retracted, whether it takes the person days or months to do so, a doubt is created as to its authenticity. In the case of K.I. Pavunny v. Asstt. Collr. (H.Q.) CE[17] that there is no bar under the Evidence Act to rely upon the retracted statement and to make it the basis for conviction when the Court is satisfied that it was a voluntary and true statement.

The law laid down by the courts in relation to retracted confessions has formed a test to judge its validity. Elements such as fear, threat, punishment that are involved in such a criminal case make it very difficult to completely prove that a statement was made voluntarily, and freely. Therefore, the researcher believes that retracted confessions should be given very less evidentiary value. This contention is further supported by the case of Haricharan Kurmi[18], which stated that the court must begin by examining the evidence adduced by the prosecution, and after forming an opinion with regard to the quality and effect of the evidence, it may turn to the confession to further lend assurance to its decision.

Hence, the research question is duly answered by relying on various case laws and other studies which support the fact that evidentiary value of retracted confession has still to find a long way to get incorporated in a wholesome way.

[1] http://www.clcbd.org/lawdictionary/224.html

[2] Nandini Satpathy v. P L Dani, AIR 1978 SC 1025

[3] Aloke Nath Dutta v. State of West Bengal, (2007) 12 SCC 230

[4] Sec. 24, Indian Evidence Act, 1872

[5] Sec. 164, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

[6] Dorcas Quek, The concept of voluntariness in the law of confessions, 17 Singapore Academy of Law Journal 819 (2005).

[7] Sayed Ali Hasan, Law of Confessions in India, 5 Police Journal 221, 222 (1932).

[8] Bharat v. State of U. P., 1971 (3) SCC 950.

[9] Subramania Gounden v. The State of Madras, 1958 SCR 428.

[10] Re: Kodur Thimma Reddi and Ors, AIR 1957 AP 758

[11] MANU/SC/0465/2005.

[12] Id. at 2.

[13] MANU/SC/0060/1967.

[14] MANU/SC/0101/1956: 1957CriLJ481.

[15] Supra note 13.

[16] State of Uttar Pradesh v. Boota Singh & Ors, AIR 1978 SC 1770.

[17] MANU/SC/2303/1997

[18] Haricharan Kurmi v. State of Bihar, 1964 (6) SCR 623

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