This article was written by Bhavya Singh Baghel, a student of Law College Dehradun.
“Circumstantial evidence…that wonderful fabric which is built out of straws collected at every point of the compass, and which is yet strong enough to hang a man”.
Circumstantial Evidence refers to the evidence which is reasonably inferred from the facts of the case. It is not a direct but rather an indirect evidence drawn out of the circumstances in a criminal case. It might be possible for an offender to hide direct evidences like hide the weapon used to commit an offence or bribe the witnesses but it wouldn’t be possible for him/her to alter the circumstances leading to the crime.
According to Bentham, Witnesses are the “eyes and ears of justice”. But testimony of witnesses is not always credible; therefore, facts are provable not only by witness but also by circumstances. In other words, Circumstantial Evidence are the chain of events which are enough to find an accused guilty of the crime committed by him/her. In order to prove a crime, the party offering the evidence is required to prove that the particular series of facts are so closely associated with the fact to be proved in order to make the accused liable for the crime committed.
According to Peter Murphy, “Circumstantial Evidence is an evidence from which the desired conclusion may be drawn but which requires the tribunal of fact not only to accept the evidence presented but also draw an inference from it.”
Principles of Circumstantial Evidence
In the case of Sharad v. State of Maharashtra, the court laid down the five golden principles of Circumstantial Evidences i.e.
- The circumstances from where conclusion of guilt is to be drawn ought to be established. The circumstances involved ‘must’ or ‘should’ and not ‘may be’ established.
- The facts, therefore, established ought to be as per the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused.
- Circumstances ought to be conclusive in nature and tendency.
- They ought to exclude each attainable hypothesis except the one to be tested.
- There should be a complete sequence of proof so as to not leave any affordable ground for the conclusion in line with the innocence of the defendant and should show that the act must have been done by the defendant.
The same principles were reiterated in the case of Bodhraj V. State of Jammu & Kashmir, Jaswant Gir v. State of Punjab and Deepak Chandrakant Patil v. State of Maharashtra.
Burden of Proof
The burden of proof lies on the prosecution. The prosecution has to prove that the series of circumstances led to the establishment of guilt of the accused. The court while dealing with circumstantial evidence held that the onus was on the prosecution to prove that the chain is complete and the infirmity of lacuna in prosecution cannot be cured by false defence or plea.
Basis for Conviction or not
In the case of People v. Conley, the court held that the use of bottle, the absence of warning and the force of the blow are the facts from which the jury could reasonably infer the intent to cause permanent disability. What evidentiary value or weight has to be attached to such statement, must necessarily depend upon the facts of the case and circumstances of each particular case. As stated by Fazal Ali. J., in most cases it will be difficult to get direct evidence of the agreement, but a conspiracy can be inferred even from the circumstances giving rise to a conclusive or irresistible two or more persons to commit an offence.
In one of the most influential cases i.e., Priyadarshani Matto Case, the Delhi University law student committed rape and murder of Priyadarshani Matto. The words of Additional Sessions Judge were “that I know the defendant is guilty, my hands are tied. As a judge, I can only go by the evidence provided by the investigation agencies” shocked the Judicial Conscience. The Delhi High Court said that the evidence was incompatible with the Singh’s plea of innocence and “we held him guilty of the offence he committed”.
Relevance in India
The Circumstantial Evidences are acceptable in India as well and can be the basis of conviction. Provided that such evidence could prove the guilt of the accused through the series of circumstances.
In Jessica Lal Murder Case, the Apex Court upheld the judgment of the Delhi High Court and the Bench comprising P. Sathasivam, J., and B. Swatanter Kumar, J., held that the presence of the accused at the scene of the crime had been proved through the ocular testimonies of several witnesses. The circumstantial evidence connecting the vehicles and cartridges used at the site of the crime to Manu Sharma as well as his conduct after the incident (he first absconded but surrendered later) proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
“In a case based on Circumstantial Evidence, the settled law is that the circumstances from which the inference has been drawn should be fully proved and must be conclusive in nature. Moreover, the complete series of circumstances must be consistent only with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused and totally inconsistent with his innocence.”
Under the Statute of the ICJ (ICJ Statute) and the ICJ’s Rules of Court, the ICJ can request that parties provide the Court with documents, ask questions to the parties, call on international organizations to provide relevant information, call witnesses and experts at its own initiative, conduct site inspections, and entrust third persons with “the task of carrying out an enquiry or giving an expert opinion.”
In Corfu Channel, the Court used liberal recourse to circumstantial evidence as sufficient persuasive evidence to find that Albania incurred legal responsibility, whereas in Crime of Genocide, it did not find the same type of evidence sufficient to hold Serbia legally responsible for the majority of Bosnia’s allegations.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) did a close evaluation of the 2 cases namely Corfu Channel Case and Crime of genocide Case and after evaluation revealed that the court has maintained a consistent, albeit nuanced, treatment of circumstantial evidence.
As per the conclusion, it is a misconception that the circumstantial evidence are less relevant and carry less weight than direct evidences. Both the direct and circumstantial evidence are equally significant in establishing criminal intent as well as the criminal act. Circumstantial Evidence could not be fabricated easily and that is an advantage over direct evidence.
 S.R. Myeni, The Law of Evidence, (Hyderabad: Asia Law House 2007), 20.
 AIR 1984 SC 1622.
 (2002) 8 SCC 45.
 (2005) 12 SCC 438.
 (2006) 10 SCC 603.
 Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, 1984 (4) SCC 185.
 543 N.E.2d 138.
 Ramawati Devi v. State of Bihar, AIR 1983 SC 164.
 V.C. Shukla v. State, 1980 AIR 1382.
 Conviction confirmed in Jessica Lal case, Frontline (Vol. 27 – Issue 10) (May 8-21, 2010) (Accessed at http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2710/stories/20100521271013400.htm)
 C. Chenga Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1996) 10 SCC 193.
 ICJ Statute, Arts 34, 44, 48, 49, 50, 51, 59 (cited in note 1); International Court of justice, Rules of Court, Arts 61, 62, 65, 66, 67, 69 (as amended Apr 14, 2005), online at http://www.icjcij.org/documents/index.php?pl=4&p 2 =3&p3 =0 (visited Mar 30, 2012).
 Corfu Channel, 1949 ICJ at 18.
 Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croat v Serb), 2008 ICJ 412 (Nov 18, 2008).