Nikhil Chandra Mondal was arrested in March 1983 on the basis of an alleged extrajudicial confession he had made before three fellow villagers about the murder of a married woman in a village in Burdwan district of West Bengal. Four years later, the trial court in March 1987 acquitted him of all charges on finding that the prosecution had not corroborated the extrajudicial confession with independent evidence.
After nearly 22 years, a division bench of the Calcutta high court in December 2008 set aside the acquittal and convicted Mondal for murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. His appeal in the Supreme Court, filed in 2009, remained pending for 14 years, before a bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sanjay Karol took up the case and validated the trial court’s approach and decision in the case.
Writing the judgment, Justice Gavai said this being a case entirely based on circumstantial evidence, these have to be of such nature that it should point exclusively towards the guilt of the accused in complete exclusion of other possibilities and probabilities.
Justices Gavai and Karol said that the trial court found the evidence of three villagers, before whom the accused had allegedly made the extrajudicial confession, to be contradictory and that the trial judge, who had the benefit of scrutinising the demeanour of the witnesses, found them untrustworthy.
Referring to the SC’s earlier judgments on evidentiary value of extrajudicial confessions, the bench said, “It is a settled principle of law that extrajudicial confession is a weak piece of evidence. Where an extrajudicial confession is surrounded by suspicious circumstances, its credibility becomes doubtful and it loses its importance. It is a rule of caution where the court would generally look for an independent reliable corroboration before placing any reliance upon such extrajudicial confession.”
Confirming the 36-year-old trial court order acquitting the man of murder charges, the SC said, “We find that the view taken by the trial court could not be said to be either perverse or illegal/impossible to warrant interference. The high court has grossly erred in interfering with the well-reasoned judgment and order of acquittal passed by the trial court.”