Supreme Court Emphasizes Newspaper Reports as Hearsay Evidence, Quashes Murder Conviction

Supreme Court Law Insider

LI Network

Published on: 4 August 2023 at 11:30 IST

The Supreme Court reiterated that newspaper reports can only be considered as hearsay evidence and should be treated as secondary evidence under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

A division bench consisting of Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Pankaj Mithal set aside the life imprisonment sentence awarded to two appellants accused of murder due to insufficient evidence.

The court emphasized that an extrajudicial confession cannot be given greater credibility solely because it is published in a newspaper and made available to the public.

The court relied on the precedent set by the case Laxmi Raj Shetty & Anr. v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1988) , which held that a newspaper report is only hearsay evidence and not admissible as proof of facts under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

The case before the court involved two appeals challenging a 2009 order of the High Court that sentenced the appellants to life imprisonment under Section 302 read with Section 112 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. The appellants were accused of murdering the victim by shooting him.

The court noted that the conviction of the first appellant was primarily based on the testimony of a correspondent from a Kannada Daily. However, the court found that the correspondent had not directly interacted with the accused and had only overheard their statements while talking to other under-trial prisoners. Furthermore, the editor who directly interacted with the accused was not examined.

The court disagreed with the High Court’s conclusion that a newspaper report regarding an extrajudicial confession carried greater credibility due to its dissemination to the public.

The Apex Court observed that such a newspaper report is only hearsay evidence and cannot be solely relied upon for conviction.

The third accused, who was the driver of the car involved in the incident, was convicted based on the car’s movements before and after the shooting. However, the court pointed out that when all the other occupants of the car were given the benefit of doubt and acquitted, the same benefit should have been extended to the third accused as well.

The court also found contradictions in the testimonies of different witnesses, leading to doubts about the prosecution’s case beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, the court ordered the acquittal of both the first and third accused due to the inadequacy of evidence against them.

Senior Advocate Dama Seshadri Naidu, who represented one of the appellants, invoked a famous quote by Mark Twain during the arguments, emphasizing the unreliability of newspaper reports.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court highlighted the limitations of newspaper reports as evidence and underscored the importance of credible and direct testimonies in criminal proceedings.

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