Dying declarations are statements oral or documentary made by a person as to the cause of his death or as to the circumstances of the transactions resulting in his death. Section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 deals with dying declarations. This clause was enac ted by the legislature advisedly as a matter of necessity as an exception to the general rule that “hearsay evidence is no evidence” and the evidence which cannot be tested by cross-examination of a witness is not admissible in a court of law.
But there is a principle through which this species of evidence is admitted i.e., “ such declarations are made in extremity, when the party is at the point of death and when every hope of this world his gone, when every motive of falsehood is silenced and the mind is induced by the most powerful consideration to speak the truth; a situation o solemn and so awful is considered by law as creating an obligation equal to that which is imposed by a positive oath administered in a court of justice”. This principle is very well reflected in the well-known legal maxim: nemo moriturus praesumitur mentiere i.e., a min will not meet his maker with a lie in his mouth. In this regard Mathew Arnold said, “truth sits upon the lips of a dying man”
Hence the grounds of admission of dying declaration are two-fold:
Firstly, necessity for the victim being generally the only principle eye-witness to the crime, the exclusion of his statement might defeat the ends of justice; and
Secondly, the sense of impending death which creates a sanction equal to the obligation of an oath.
Evidentiary Value of Dying Declaration
So far as the evidentiary value of a dying declaration is concerned, it is considered as a substantial piece of evidence provided it is not tainted with malice and is not made in an unfit mental state. By enacting Section 32 the legislature in its wisdom has placed a dying declaration on par with evidence on oath. Though dying declaration is entitled to great weight, it is noteworthy that the accused has no power of cross-examination. It is for this reason that the court also insists that the dying declaration should be of such a nature as to inspire the full confidence of the court. Once it is established that the statement of the deceased was not as a result of torturing, or a prompting or a product of imagination and the same is true, voluntary, then court can bas its conviction without any further corroboration. The rule requiring corroboration is merely a rule of prudence.
Following circumstances provides strength and assurance to a dying declaration:
- That it was recorded by a competent Magistrate after taking all proper precautions.
- That it was taken down in the exact words in which it was spoken.
- That it was made shortly after the assault when there was no opportunity of it being coloured by impressions received fron others.
- That the deceased had an ample opportunity of observation.
- That the incident happened in a sufficiently lighted place.
- That the deceased had made more than one statement and all of them were consistent as to the circumstances of the occurrence and the identity of the attackers.
- That the deceased was not under any fear or pressure at the time of making the statement.
Multiple dying Declarations
Law in regard to multiple dying declarations has been well settled as per the various decisions delivered by the Hon’ble supreme Court of India time and again. In such cases reliability of such statements must be measured very carefully. In Kundula Bal Subrahmanyam and others v. State of Andhra Pradesh it was observed that:
“if there are more than one dying declaration than the court has also to scrutinize all the dying declarations to find out if each one of these passes the test of being trustworthy. The Court must further find out whether the different dying declarations are consistent with each other in material particulars before accepting and relying upon the same”
Hence there can be two cases i.e., where multiple dying declarations which are consistent with each other and secondly case of inconsistent multiple dying declarations.
Where all the dying declarations are consistent with each other i.e., there are no inconsistencies in such statements then same can be relied upon after scrutinizing their veracity with the surrounding circumstances and corroboration with other evidences.
On the contrary if there are inconsistencies in the multiple dying declarations, in such cases Supreme Court in case of Sudhakar v. State of Madhya Pradesh held that
“where the multiple dying declarations are either contradictory or are at variance with each other to a large extent, the test of common prudence would be, to first examine which of them is corroborated by other prosecution evidence further the attendant circumstances, the condition of the deceased at the relevant time the medical evidence, the voluntariness and genuineness of the statement made by the deceased, physical and mental fitness of the deceased and possibility of the deceased being tortured are some of the factors which would guide the exercise of judicial discretion by the court in such matters”
In a recent case of Jagbir Sigh v. State (N.C.T. of Delhi) following guidelines were laid down by the Apex court:
“The extent of the inconsistencies would then have to be considered by the court. The inconsistencies may turn out to be reconcilable. In such cases, where the inconsistencies go to some matter of detail or description but is incriminatory in nature as far as the accused is concerned, the court would look to the material on record to conclude as to which dying declaration is to be relied on unless it be shown that they are unreliable”
In addition to this there is a third category of cases is that where there are more than one dying declaration and inconsistencies between the declarations are absolute and the dying declarations are irreconcilable being repugnant to one another. In a dying declaration, the accused may not be blamed at all and the cause of death may be placed at the doorstep of an unfortunate accident. This may be followed up by another dying declaration which is diametrically opposed to the first dying declaration. In fact, in that scenario, it may not be a question of an inconsistent dying declaration but a dying. In this category of cases Apex Court held that:
“We would think that on a conspectus of the law as laid down by this court, when there are more than one dying declaration, and in the earlier dying declaration, the accused is not sought to be roped in but in the later dying declaration, a summersault is made by the deceased, the case must be decided on the facts of each case. The court will not be relived of its duty to carefully examine the entirety of materials as also the circumstances surrounding the making of the different dying declarations. If the court finds that the incriminatory dying declaration brings out the truthful position particularly in conjunction with the capacity of the deceased to make such declaration, the voluntariness with which it was made which involves, no doubt, ruling out tutoring and prompting and also the other evidence which support the contents of the incriminatory dying declaration, it can be acted upon. Equally, the circumstances which render the earlier dying declaration, worthy or unworthy of acceptance, can be considered.”
Hence it can be concluded in a nutshell that the fundamental principles governing the scrutiny of a dying declaration along with corroboration of materials will again come into play to test the veracity of multiple contradictory dying declaration.
 Per Eyre L.C.B. in R. v. Woodcock, (1789) 1 Leach 500
Muthu Kutty v. State by Inspector of Police (2005) 9 SCC 113
 Kushal Rao v. State of Bombay 1958 SCC 28
 Kishan Lal Sethi v. Jagan Nath, AIR 1990 SC 1357
 (1993) 2 SCC 684
 Amol Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2008) 5 SCC 468
 AIR 2012 SC 3265
 CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 967 OF 2015