Res Gestae – An Admissible Evidence

By S.Vaijayanthee

Abstract

Evidence is substantial to any case to evaluate its merits and conclude the rights of the parties. Indian Evidence Act, 1872 , an adjective law, regulates and governs the principles and matters relating to evidence. The law of evidence disregards certain modes of acquiring evidence and ‘hearsay’ is one such evidence.  Hearsay is an out of court statement that is unverified and made by a person other than the witness. However, hearsay evidence has an exception known as res gestae. According to Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872 , res gestae is admissible in the court of law, with certain limitations.

This article will deal with the doctrine of res gestae in detail as an admissible evidence, its components, exceptions and criticisms faced by it.

INTRODUCTION

‘Evidence’, derived from Latin word ‘Evidere’ means “to show clearly, or to discover, or to ascertain, or to prove.” Evidence is substantial to any case for the Courts to decide and deliver complete justice and thus, protect the rights guaranteed to the citizens. Therefore, it is pertinent for the evidence of facts to be well regulated by a well established law.

 The basic principles regarding evidence is governed by the Indian Evidence Act,1872. Neither a substantive law nor procedural, the law is said to be ‘adjective’, i.e, that part that deals with procedures regarding evidence, pleading and practice.

Evidence forms an integral part to prove any crime or case in the court of law. It is important for it to be genuine, true and not deceive the law and those guarding it. For this purpose, the evidence act disregards certain modes of acquiring evidence. ‘ Hearsay’ evidence is one such mode that is inadmissible and against the principles of evidence.

Hearsay is an out of court statement that is unverified and made by a person other than the witness. The information in the statement is not one acquired through own experience or personal knowledge. This makes it inaccurate and vague. It is considered inadmissible and does not form a part of the evidence collected by the court while considering the facts of the case. The Supreme Court, in its judgment, has enumerated reasons as to why hearsay evidence cannot be regarded relevant. Firstly, It is important for a witness to assume personal responsibility while testifying before the court, i.e, expose himself to penalties of falsehood. But that is not the case when a person gives hearsay evidence, as there is no feeling of any responsibility. Secondly, the truth is said to be diluted and diminished with each time it is repeated. Thirdly,it gives scope to fraud and attaches importance to false rumor.

Therefore, for the reasons stated and to uphold justice without interrupting the enjoyment of rights by any citizen, it is the fundamental rule of evidence to disregard hearsay evidence as inadmissible.

However this rule, like any other, has its own exceptions. There exists certain circumstances when hearsay evidence is considered admissible . One such exception to the general principle is the doctrine of ‘res gestae’.

DOCTRINE OF RES GESTAE

The Indian Evidence Act,1872 provides for Relevancy of facts forming part of the same transaction. It states that “ Facts which, though not in issue, are so connected with a fact in issue as to form part of the same transaction, are relevant, whether they occurred at the same time and place or at different times and places.” [1]  This provision provides for the exception to the hearsay evidence, Res Gestae.

The literal translation of ‘Res Gestae’ as provided by Dr.Phillip Pattenden, Director of Studies in Classic, Peterhouse, Cambridge, is “something deliberately undertaken or done.”

In law, it refers to the spontaneous declaration or statement made by a person right after an incident and before the mind has an opportunity to concoct a false story. The term eventually sought to “embody the notion that evidence of any concededly relevant act or condition might also bring in the words which accompanied it.” [2]

The doctrine is explained with the help of two propositions to justify the exception. Human utterance is both a fact and communication and that human interaction could be so interlinked with words that the significance of certain actions cannot be understood without the words that correlate to it. There may arise circumstances where dissociation of words from actions would defeat the discovery of truth.[3]  The doctrine of Res Gestae was established for the purpose that no evidence that might be crucial for the case should be ignored and thus to regulate the exception to the rule of hearsay certain elements and conditions have been laid down.

ELEMENTS OF RES GESTAE

The elements that are covered under the ambit of the principle are those that fall outside the contemporary definition of hearsay. Those include circumstantial evidence of state of mind, verbal acts, verbal parts of acts and certain non verbal conduct.

Things did, or liberally speaking, the facts of transactions that explain an act or prove a motive for acting also constitute as evidence. It can be a matter incidental to a main fact or explanatory of it or include acts and words that are closely associated with a main fact such that it constitutes as a part of it and without knowledge of which the principal and main fact might not be completely understood. [4] In practice, the admissibility of evidence of uncharged misconduct is also covered under the ambit of res gestae.[5]

RES GESTAE AS AN ADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE

Section 6 emphasises on the phrase ‘transaction’. This phrase has a wide definition. A transaction can be a crime, contract, wrong or any other subject matter that may be in question. A transaction can also be a series of events that took place in continuity , its cause and effect , relevant situations, or even necessary facts of events transpired. But it is pertinent to note that, those facts that are closely connected with the proximity of time, continuity of action and design or purpose are only relevant and form a part of the transaction. Other offences committed can constitute to res gestae if they are so connected with the crime charged that they form a part of the transaction and give a logical or visible connection and prove the material fact in question.[6]

The rationale behind the doctrine is the spontaneity and the urgency of a declaration made that the person had any time gap to concoct. The primary question to be considered is whether there has been a possibility of concoction or distortion of information. The time gap should be very short or contemporaneous such that there is no possibility of fabrication or making up of a story. [7]

The test of ‘spontaneity and involvement’ was established in the landmark case of Ratten v. The Queen[8] before the Privy council. The Council characterised a statement to be admissible as an original evidence of verbal facts on the basis to merely establish the fact that was made and not to establish or evaluate the truth behind the statement made.  It was held that hearsay evidence may be admitted if in case the declaration is made in such circumstance of involvement or pressure as to exclude the possibility of distortion or concoction to the advantage of the maker.

Therefore, the principles governing admissibility of declaration is four-fold. The declaration that is oral or written must relate to and explain as to how they accompany the facts and form a part of it. It should be substantially contemporaneous with the fact and not merely a narrative of the event that happened. The declaration and the act may be made by the same or different person(s). In crimes such as conspiracy and riot, the statement of all people involved in the common object is admissible. Lastly, it is pertinent to understand that though the statement made is admissible for the purpose that it explains or corroborates, or is made to understand the significance of the acts committed, it is not the evidence of truth of the matters stated. [9]

TESTIMONY OF CHILDREN- AN EXCEPTION

In case of a testimony given by a child, the rule and the test of res gestae is relaxed. This is because a declaration or testimony of a child is often subject to excited utterances.[10] Existence of a time gap is said to make an event irrelevant to the transaction and thus inadmissible. But this is not the case for children and is a bit relaxed. This is because children cope with stress differently and that their statements are often made once there is a safe opportunity to speak.[11]

The evidence of a child screaming and shouting for mother’s help when the deceased father who was sleeping next to the child was struck with a weapon and when the child recognised the attacker, it was held admissible. If the child had not reacted immediately but had spoken later it would have still been admissible under Section 6 of the Evidence Act.[12]

APPLICATION BY JUDICIARY

The judicial system has been invoking the doctrine of res gestae to admit evidences in order to evaluate the facts and information that may aid in deciding the merits of a case concluding the rights of parties.

Under Res Gestae, the appreciable interval between act of carnage and the recording of the statement by the Magistrate  was found inadmissible. It was held that a statement must be made contemporaneous with the offence committed or at least immediately after such an occurrence. However slight an interval it may be , if it gives scope for fabrication or concoction, it does not attract Res Gestae. [13]

Section 6 is applicable to the statement of the deceased. Reliance was placed on Illustration a to Section 6 that states “ A is accused of murder of B by beating him. Whatever said or done by A or B or the bystanders at the beating, or so shortly before or after it as to form part of the transaction is a relevant fact.”[14]

In the case of State of Maharashta v. Kamal Ahmed Mohd. Vakil Ansari[15], the facts in issue were the seven bomb blasts that took place in Mumbai Suburban Railways in 2006. The confessions were made by the accused two years after the incident in 2008. The statement made was held to be not admissible under Section 6 as it could have not been done contemporaneously along with the bomb blast and also it was in no way a spontaneous reaction arising out of the incident in question.

AGAINST RES GESTAE

The principle of Res Gestae faced many criticisms for its vagueness and riskiness in application. It was stated that no evidential problem is as shrouded in doubt and confusion as that of res gestae.[16] Wigmore was one of the critics that felt strongly about the doctrine. He referred to the principle as wholly unmanageable and a much abused latin phrase and quoted  “res gestae is not only useless but even positively harmful”[17]. By useless he meant that it can be explained in terms of a principle that already exists in a well-established law and it is harmful in a way that the ambiguity creates scope for uncertainty with respect to limitations. He further stated that the principle is frequently used as a veil for loose ideas and ignorance of principles[18] and thus should never be referred to.

CONCLUSION

In spite of the criticisms and skepticism about the principle of Res Gestae, it has proved to be instrumental in the law of evidence in order to not overlook any detail however trivial one may think it is. This principle considers even the smallest of gestures, verbal acts and exclamations critical in deciding a case. In practice, the principle has evolved to be more accommodating by relaxing rules in cases such as rape and domestic violence. Therefore, in any criminal case, a case by case analysis is to be undertaken rather than following a rigid law to ensure that the decision declared is just and according to law. Any statement that is not admissible under Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872 can be considered as corroborative evidence that supports an initial evidence already collected as under Section157 and thus admissible.

However, Res Gestae is still an aspect of hearsay evidence even though it is an exception to it. Therefore, it is important to exercise due care and caution while considering the admissibility of such evidence. For, the court of law cannot be misguided in any way in order to deliver complete justice and protect the rights of citizens.


[1] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 Sec.6.

[2] Charles McCormick, McCormick on Evidence 268(4th edn. 1992).

[3] Jeper v. Reginam, 1952 AC 480.

[4] Vinodkumar  Baderbhai Patel v. State of Gujarat, 1998 INDLAW Guj 22.

[5] Edward J. Imwikelried, Uncharged Misconduct Evidence 6:20(Callahgan 1984).

[6] Bruner v. State, 612 p.2d 1375,1377(Okla. Crim. App. 1980).

[7] Sukhar v. State of U.P,(1999) 9 SCC 507.

[8] 1972 AC 378.

[9] Sudipto Sarkar, V.R.Manohar, Law of Evidence, 211(16th Edn. 2007).

[10] Lucy S. McGough, Child Witnesses: Fragile voices in the American Legal System, 126-88(1994).

[11] Commonwealth v. Hardy, 716 N.E. 2d 109.

[12] Uttam Singh v. State of M.P, 2002 INDLAW MP 79.

[13] Gentela Vijayavardhan Rao & Anr. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1996 (6) SCC 241.

[14] Rattan Singh v. State of H.P.,1997(4) SCC 161.

[15] AIR 2013 SC 1441.

[16] Julius Stone, Res Gestae Raegitata, 55 The Law Quarterly Review 66.

[17] John Wigmore, Wigmore on Evidence 1767(Chardbourn rev.ed.1976).

[18] John Wigmore, 1A Wigmore on Evidence 218 (Tillers rev.ed. 1983).

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