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THE Supreme Court has ruled that a dying declaration can be the sole basis for a conviction, without any need for corroboration, if the court is satisfied that the declaration was true and voluntary. The apex court turned down the plea that unless corroborated, a dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of conviction by zeroing in on the “unique situation” in which such a testimony was provided by the deceased.

The court dismissed an appeal challenging the conviction of one Shakuntala Devi, which was based solely on the dying declaration of her daughter-in-law, Suman. The latter was burnt by Shakuntala, who had regular quarrels with her for not bringing enough dowry.

A bench comprising Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice P P Naolekar said that once the court is satisfied that the declaration was true and voluntary, it can base its conviction on that without any further corroboration. It could not be laid down as an absolute rule of law that a dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of conviction unless it is corroborated. The rule requiring corroboration, said the bench, is merely a rule of prudence.

The bench, however, said that the court must satisfy itself about the genuineness of the declaration as the accused has no power of cross-examination. The court has to be certain that the statement of the deceased is not as a result of either tutoring or prompting or a “product of imagination”. The court must be further satisfied that the deceased was in a fit state of mind after a clear opportunity to observe and identify the assailant, said Justice Pasayat writing the verdict.

The judges added that the situation in which a person is on the deathbed is so solemn and serene that it was a reason in law to accept the veracity of such a statement. It is for this reason the requirements of oath and cross-examination are dispensed with in the case of a dying declaration, noted the court.

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