Q. Define an accomplice. A conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. Explain and state the principles of law involved. [MPCJ 2010]

Ans. The expression “accomplice” is nowhere defined in the Indian Evidence Act. In its etymological and contextual sense, it suggests that when an offence is committed by more than one person in concert, every one participating in its commission is an accomplice. He may be privy of the commission of the offence in either form as a Principal offender of First Degree or Second Degree or Accessories before the fact or after the fact. Thus, an accomplice is “participes criminis” in the commission of an offence.

Evidentiary value of the accomplice evidence :- In the given question, the principal governing and regulating the evidentiary value of the accomplice evidence is directly involved and requires explanation. The relevant law on the point is Section 133 and Section 114 – illustration (b) of the evidence act. Section 133 of the Evidence act makes two very important declaration, its first part envisages that an accomplice is a competent witness while the second part states that a conviction is not illegal merely because it is based on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. This section is the absolute rule of law as regards to the evidence of accomplices and authorisation to the court trying an accused to legally convict him on the single evidence, of an accomplice evidence.

But, it is equally important to be conscious that such evidence comes from a tainted source. That is, on his own admission he is a criminal and a man of the very lowest character who has thrown to the wolves his erstwhile associates and friends in order to save his own skin and he has been favoured by state and is therefore likely to favour the state. Such concern has been articulated as a rule of prudence under illustration (b) of section 114 of the Evidence Act. This cautionary provision states that court may presume that an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless he is corroborated in material particulars. It is notice worthy that, it does not cast mandatory duty on the court to raise such presumption in all situation. In fact, it incorporates two examples where requirement of the corroboration was dispensed with i.e. a good character accused bonafidely implicates another equally good character accused and when an accused states against a co-accused without any prior concert.

In the landmark judgment of Bhuboni Sahu v. The Emperor, A.I.R. 1949 P.C. 257 by Privy Council, the section 133 and illustration (b) to section 114 of the Evidence act has been harmoniously construed and held that though the conviction of an accused on the testimony of an accomplice cannot be said to be illegal yet the court will, as a matter of practice, not accept the evidence of such a witness without corroboration in material particular. The same principal has been approved by Hon’ble Apex court in Haroon Haji Abdulla vs State of Maharashtra, 1968 AIR 832. Similarly, the constitution bench of Hon’ble Apex court in Hari Charan Kurmi and Jogia Hajam vs State of Bihar, 1964 AIR 1184 has held that for accomplice evidence to be acted upon it has to corroborated in material particulars.

In the foregoing discussion of the law, it is abundantly clear that rule of prudence requiring corroboration of the accomplice evidence has crystallized into the force of rule of law. In such circumstances, the next question is what type, extent and nature of corroboration is needed to meet the demand of law. In a nutshell, such corroboration has to be on the point of factum of the crime and also as to the connection of the criminal with crime and undoubtedly its nature and extent varies with the circumstances of the each case. Such corroboration may be either by direct or circumstantial evidence. But, it has to necessarily from some independent source. In conclusion, there is no antithesis in Section 133 and illustration (b) of the section 114 of the Evidence Act. The cumulative effect is that as a normal rule court will not act on the uncorroborated testimony of the accomplice.