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In any criminal trial, the most crucial thing in deriving the guilt of the accused person is the pieces of evidence, whether the witnesses or material or documentary evidence. In the current discussion


In any criminal trial, the most crucial thing in deriving the guilt of the accused person is the pieces of evidence, whether the witnesses or material or documentary evidence. In the current discussion, we are concerned about the witnesses. The apex court of India defined a witness as “a person capable of giving information regarding the pertinent to an event through deposition either orally or in writing, made in the court,[1] subject to the fulfilment of section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (Hereinafter referred to as “IEA”).[2] Further, there can be independent or interested witnesses, An Independent witness is a witness who does not have any interest in the outcome of the proceeding, and an interested witness does have an interest in the result of the case.[3] Apart from these, there may be other kinds of witnesses as well. The point of discussion here is the sole eyewitness and his conduct either before, during, or after the commission of a crime.

Section 8 of IEA provides that “Any fact is relevant if it shows or constitutes a motive or preparation for any fact in issue or relevant fact, and further the conduct of any party to the proceeding about such suit, or any fact in issue or relevant fact…….”.[4] In this discussion, we will be focusing on the conduct of a sole eyewitness to ascertain the conclusion as to the guilt of the accused.


The criminal courts perform an essential function in convicting the accused person and securing the ends of justice for the victims, but such a function couldn’t be performed smoothly, if there is a lack of evidence, in those cases, there will be a chance that justice will get vitiated. Further, where there is a lack of documentary or material evidence, oral evidence (Witnesses) is the only hope for the prosecution, which is at more risk of being tampered with.  For example, in a case, where a father has killed his wife, and the sole eyewitness is the child who, though was the prosecution witness subsequently turned hostile to the prosecution; the accused would have been getting the benefit of the doubt if the prosecution had not succeeded in establishing the existence of some exceptional or special knowledge to the accused, to invoke section 106 of IEA[5] or the sole material evidence (i.e. Knife) was not found.[6] Therefore, witnesses especially eye-witnesses perform a key role in the conviction of the accused, and so their conduct.

Also in some cases, there is a probability of implicating the alleged accused in a conspiracy as to the false charges, which is referred to in this discussion as a trick. In those cases, also the conduct of such witnesses provides a better path for the court to reach justice. Further, it is pertinent to mention here that, in cases where there is only a sole eyewitness, the conviction or acquittal depends upon his testimony, though corroboration with other witnesses is also done, therefore his subsequent conduct, reaction and behaviour becomes crucial to derive the truth or trick inherited in the case.


It is pertinent to mention here that though there is no specific rule as to how a person should react if he witnesses a crime, the natural reaction differs from person to person.[7] But, another important thing is that he/she who is the witness, more particularly the eyewitness should react in a manner, that is not beyond the general human conduct, which any prudent man will pursue when confronted with such situations;[8] for example, when a person witnesses a murder, he should go to the nearby police station, and not to the advocate, who is 15 kilometres away from his house/ place of occurrence.[9] To rely on the testimony of the eyewitnesses, the court also has to see whether their behaviour was unnatural concerning that particular incident as compared to the general human conduct or not. If the answer to the following is in the affirmative, then the accused is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. The same conclusion is also derived from the statements of those eyewitnesses, which they made during the investigation and before the court.

In the case, where there were four eyewitnesses and none of them came forward to save the accused from the assailants during the assault and there were also some variations in their statements, then the court gave the accused the benefit of the doubt by acquitting them;[10] However when the intervention is not done, due to the fear of death, by the very fact that assailants were armed with weapons, the behaviour could not be seen as unnatural.[11] Furthermore, in another case, where after witnessing such an incident, the conduct of the sole eyewitness was not in line with that of an ordinary person as he

did not go to the police, and also did not inform the family members of the victim, the court held his conduct to be unnatural.[12] In another case where the father of the deceased did not intervene to save his son from the assailants while they were assaulting him. The court was of the view that as a father, worth the name, he should have intervened and at least tried to save his son, thus his behaviour held unnatural. Though there was enmity between the family of the deceased and the accused, mere suspicion cannot prove the guilt of the accused.[13]


From the above-mentioned principles laid down in various cases, we can infer that if there is any unusual conduct or unnatural behaviour on the part of the eyewitnesses, then the accused is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Still, such a decision should be derived only after a cautious examination of the facts, and circumstances of the case. Whether the conduct of a witness is unnatural or not, also differs from case to case. No hard and fast rule can be laid down regarding the same because there is no specific rule for the conduct of a person who encounters any incident of crime.

More particularly in those scenarios where there is a sole eyewitness, the path to reach justice depends on his/ her testimony in toto. The court should be cautious in deriving the unnaturalistic acts of an eyewitness, which is in contradiction with general human behaviour in respect of such a particular situation. There are many instances in which the court prevented the misuse of the process of law, based on the conduct of the eyewitness.[14] Further, it is pertinent to mention here that in those cases where there is a sole eyewitness, who is also an interested witness, then verification of the testimony of such a witness becomes more crucial. The courts have to employ more cautiousness in ascertaining the existence of natural human behaviour in their conduct, as the only end to secure justice is dependent on his/ her depositions. Thus, we can infer that in all the cases where there are eyewitnesses, especially sole eyewitnesses, they’re also the interested witnesses. It is the duty of the courts for the sake of administration of justice and to prevent abuse of the process of law to reach conclusively, the genuineness of the evidence deposed by such a witness.


In criminal proceedings, evidence including the testimony of witnesses is important to prove the genuineness of the case and the guilt of the accused. In those cases, where other witnesses are lacking, and insufficient, and there is only one sole eyewitness, then his/ her conduct becomes the most important as well as crucial thing in ascertaining the truth or trick behind the case, and the guilt of the accused. However, their credibility and relevancy may shatter, if their conduct is not aligned with general human behaviour, which is expected by a prudent human being in such a situation (for example: not saving the deceased from the attackers, or not reporting the case to the police, or the family of the victim, failure to act reasonably, etc.). The court assesses whether the conduct of the eyewitness is unnatural, compared to typical human behaviour or conduct, and if the answer is affirmative, then the accused is entitled to get acquittal.

The well-known Blackstone’s ratio says “Ten guilty persons should escape than that one innocent suffers.” The assessment of the conduct of the eyewitnesses along with their testimonies helps the court ascertain the genuineness of the case, which ensures that no innocent person should suffer in a false case. Though each case is unique and no strict rule can exist for determining unnatural behaviour, caution is required for determining the same. Such caution becomes more crucial where the sole eyewitness is also an interested party. It is important to ensure the genuineness of such testimony is crucial for justice and preventing legal abuse.

Author(s) Name: Gaurav Sonka (National Law University Odisha, Cuttack)


[1] Madhu v State of Karnataka [2014] AIR 394 (SC)

[2] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872

[3]Shantanu Vyas, Priyanshu Kumar and Osheen Jain, ‘Testimony of Interested Witness’ (2022) III 732

[4] The Indian Evidence Act 1872

[5] The Indian Evidence Act 1872

[6] Anees v State (NCT of Delhi) [2024] SCC OnLine 757 (SC)

[7] State of HP v Mast Ram (2004) 8 SCC OnLine 660 (SC)

[8] Lahu Kamlakar Patil v State of Maharashtra (2013) 6 SCC OnLine 417 (SC):  Shivasharanappa v. State of Karnataka (2013) 5 SCC 705 (SC)

[9] Sudarshan v State of Maharashtra (2014) 12 SCC OnLine 312 (SC)

[10] State of Rajasthan v Mohan Lal (2009) 12 SCC OnLine 308 (SC)

[11] Paramjit Singh v State of Punjab (2007) 13 SCC OnLine 530 (SC)

[12]Chunthuram v State of Chhattisgarh (2020) 10 SCC OnLine 733 (SC)

[13] State of Punjab v Sucha Singh & Others (2003) 3 SCC OnLine 153 (SC)

[14] State of Rajasthan v. Mohan Lal (n 10)