The Supreme Court reiterated that the threshold for disbelieving a witness is not mere discrepancies or inconsistencies, but material discrepancies and inconsistencies that make their account highly improbable.

The Court was hearing a Criminal Appeal that challenged the Kerala High Court's judgment which dismissed the appellant's appeal under Section 374(2) CrPC and upheld the conviction of the appellant under Sections 143, 147, 148, and 302 of the IPC.

The bench comprising Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice Pankaj Mithal observed, “The threshold for disbelieving a witness is not mere discrepancy or inconsistency but material discrepancy and inconsistency, which renders the account narrated by the witnesses so highly improbable that the same may safely be discarded altogether from consideration.”

Brief Facts-

The appellant, part of an unlawful assembly, was convicted of murdering the victim, a member of an ‘Anti-Liquor Movement’, who had an altercation with an illicit liquor vendor, who threatened him. Later, the appellant and others, armed with weapons, attacked the victim, with the appellant stabbing him and others hitting him with hockey sticks. The victim was pronounced dead at the hospital. An FIR was registered, leading to the appellant's conviction for murder and a life sentence, while the co-accused received lesser sentences. The appellant has contested the prosecution's case and the credibility of the witnesses.

The Court noted that the appellant highlighted inconsistencies in the statements of the prosecution witnesses and mentioned the decision of Rammi v. State of M.P. and quoted, “But too serious a view to be adopted on mere variations falling in the narration of an incident (either as between the evidence of two witnesses or as between two statements of the same witness) is an unrealistic approach for judicial scrutiny.”

The Court said that there was a definite motive for the accused to throttle the voice of the appellant as the victim wanted to halt the thriving liquor business of the accused and observed, “In such a scenario, the appellant was required to point out serious loopholes in the prosecution story for discrediting the witnesses. Unfortunately, our faith in the credibility and reliability of the witnesses is unshaken. Although, there are a few inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witnesses but the same are minor and not substantial, as argued, so as to erode the credibility of such witnesses.”

The Court further said that section 134 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 ordains that no particular number of witnesses is required, in any case, to prove a fact. The Court observed, “It is not the law that a conviction cannot be recorded unless there is oral testimony of at least two witnesses matching with each other. It is the quality of evidence and not the quantity that matters. If the evidence of a solitary witness appeals to the court to be wholly reliable, the same can form the foundation for recording a conviction.”

While probing whether the act of the appellant came within the ambit of Section 300 IPC the Court relied on the decision in Pulicherla Nagaraju @ Nagaraja Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh where it was observed, “The intention to cause death can be gathered generally from a combination of a few or several of the following, among other, circumstances; (i) nature of the weapon used; (ii) whether the weapon was carried by the accused or was picked up from the spot; (iii) whether the blow is aimed at a vital part of the body; (iv) the amount of force employed in causing injury; (v) whether the act was in the course of sudden quarrel or sudden fight or free for all fight; (vi) whether the incident occurs by chance or whether there was any premeditation; (vii) whether there was any prior enmity or whether the deceased was a stranger; (viii) whether there was any grave and sudden provocation, and if so, the cause for such provocation; (ix) whether it was in the heat of passion; (x) whether the person inflicting the injury has taken undue advantage or has acted in a cruel and unusual manner; (xi) whether the accused dealt a single blow or several blows….”

Relying on Pulicherla’s case the Court summarised that the appellant participated in a premeditated attack on the victim, armed with a deadly weapon and stabbed the unarmed victim on a vital organ causing his death.

Accordingly, the Court agreed with the High Court’s affirmance of the conviction and dismissed the Criminal appeal.

Cause Title: Joy Devraj v. State of Kerala (Neutral Citation: 2024 INSC 473)

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