Leterm mortem or the dying declaration is the statement of a deceased person which explains the circumstances of their death; in other words, if a person made any statement before his last few breaths which establish the fact that he was aware of who and what is causing his death, such statement is a dying declaration. The dying declaration is believed to be reliable evidence based on the common belief that the person who is on his death-bed will never lie. The principle of dying declaration is based on the maxim “nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire” which means ‘a man will not meet his maker with a lie in his mouth’. The recording of dying declarations is a very important task and is done by the competent Magistrate and sometimes by the police officers if the deceased was so precarious that no other alternative was left, and extreme care is taken when a dying declaration is recorded. If a person’s dying declaration is carefully recorded by the appropriate authority, then such a declaration retains its full value and is taken into account as an essential ingredient of a court trial, according to the Evidence Law.
Indian law recognizes the fact that the dying man rarely lies or the truth sits on the lips of a dying man; the belief is that a person who is going to die exhausts all his needs and desires, and his interest is more inclined towards his self-deeds, so he rarely lies. The statement made by a person who is about to die, as to how he died and who is the accused, is treated as evidence in Indian Courts. The dying declaration is mentioned under Section 32 (1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; the dying declaration is an exception to the hearsay rule that bans the use of a statement by anyone other than the person repeating it whereas testing defines due to its inherent unreliability during a test. The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 explains the admissibility of dying declaration; if we go through a close inspection of the Section, it is clear that a dying person’s statement in relation to the cause of his death, or the circumstances that resulted in his death, is relevant and the sole basis of conviction in cases where the cause of that person’s death comes into question.
Indian Courts in its catena of judicial precedents have established the relevance of the dying declaration and interpreted Section 32 (1) in different circumstances. In Khushal Rao v. State of Bombay, the Supreme Court laid down the principles of admissibility of a dying declaration. The Hon’ble Court stated that it cannot be an absolute rule of law that dying the declaration is the only ground of punishment until it is confirmed; also, the judges shall keep in mind the facts, circumstances, and surrounding conditions in which the dying declaration was made while admitting dying declaration as a piece of evidence. Further, the court should always ensure that the dying declaration was made before a competent Magistrate and is in the form of question and answer, and should be in the format which is establishing declaration. Later, in the case of Munnu Raja and Ors. v. State of M. P., the Supreme Court of India observed that a statement of an injured individual recorded as FIR can be understood as a dying declaration and is satisfactory under Section 32 (1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It was likewise seen that the dying declaration doesn’t show the whole occurrence or the historical backdrop of the case. In this circumstance, verification isn’t important; the dying declaration can be proclaimed as special evidence with the end goal of conviction. In the case of State v. Maregowda, the High Court of Karnataka made a wide interpretation of the provision and held that a suicide note found in the garments of the dead is considered as their dying declaration and it is admitted as evidence under Section 32 (1) of the Act. Recently, in the case of State v. Arumugam Govindaswamy and Ors., the Karnataka High Court stated that it is a settled law that the testimony of the rape-victim does not need corroboration and that a conviction can be possible solely on the basis of that. Moreover, the courts have previously convicted accused rapists based on the dying declarations of rape victims. Recently, a dying declaration was made by the victim of the Hathras Case; before, the Uttar Pradesh Police cremated her body without the presence of her parents and family, and violated her right of an honourable farewell, which was her fundamental right. Now, the only thing we can ensure is that she gets a fair trial and her statement is considered to be in line with the sanctity of our laws. If we failed, to provide justice to the victim, the case will end up being just another statistic and then we will have ourselves to blame. In a bold move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, after the horrific incident happened in Hathras, directed all the States and UT to strictly enforce every law and guideline related to sexual assault on women and ensure the admission of the dying declaration of sexual assault victims in courts. The advisory also mentioned that the dying declaration of sexual assault victims cannot be rejected on basis that she has not given her statements in front of Magistrate. The government must strongly enforce the policies against such barbaric crimes and should ensure that the States and UTs follow all guidelines and advisories issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and the Centre.
Gaurav Kr. Yadav is a student of BA. LL.B. at Integral University, India. Mohd. Rameez Raza is a student of Law at Integral University, India; he is also a Columnist for CNES, JGU.