Indian Evidence Act and The Doctrine of Res Gestae

Res Gestae: Meaning and Evolution

Res Gestae is a Latin word which means “things done.”  The literal meaning of the word “res” is “everything that may form an object of rights and includes an object, subject matter or status”. The Romans originally used the word Res gestae that implies acts are done or actus.  The English and American scholars defined Res gestae as facts which constituted the same transaction. Res gestae is used as a principle in the English criminal justice system under the name of “res gestae”.

  Res Gestae is the facts which spontaneously or inevitably form a part of the same transaction. These facts become relevant in the nature of the fact in question because of their correlation with the principal transaction. The hearsay evidence is not admissible but this is an exception to hearsay rule of evidence because it is a spontaneous statement made by a person instantaneously before or after an event and the mind has no opportunity to juggle a false story.

The principle has been explained by LORD NORMAND in Teper v. Reginam, 1952, 2 All ER 447, 449: 1952 AC 480:

“Nevertheless the rule (Hearsay) admits of certain carefully safeguarded and limited exceptions, one of which is that the words may be proved when they form part of the res gestae… It appears to rest ultimately on two propositions that human utterance is both a fact and a means of communication, and that human action may be so interwoven with words that the significance of the action cannot be understood without the correlative words and the dissociation of the words from  the action would impede the discovery of truth.”

The Indian Evidence Act

In India, the Indian evidence Act’s Section 6, as a rule, is known as Res Gestae.

S. 6 of the Indian Evidence Act states that
“Facts which, though not in issue, are so connected with a fact in issue as to form part of the same transaction, are relevant, whether they occurred at the same time and place of at different times and places”

In Babulal v. W.I.T Ltd.[1] it was observed that the statement of law in section 6 of the evidence act is usually known as Res Gestae.

Res gestae comprises facts that form part of the same transaction. So, exploring what a transaction is, when it begins and when it concludes is crucial. If there is any fact that does not connect itself to the main transaction, it is not a res gestae and thus inadmissible.

Transaction as defined
The word same transaction is nowhere defined under the Indian Evidence Act. Stephen has given the definition of the word as “A transaction is a group of facts, connected together to be referred to by a single legal name, a crime, a contract, wrong or any other subject of enquiry which may be in issue”.  It incorporates both instantaneous cause and effect of an act or event, as well as also its collection of relevant circumstances, the other essential antecedents of its occurrence, connected with it, at a reasonable distance of the time, pace and cause and effect

A good working test of determining what transaction is;

  • Proximity of time,
  • Unity or proximity of place,
  • Continuity of actions, and
  • Community of purpose.

But the main test must be continuity of action and community of purpose. The condition for admissibility of a statement made by a person who was at the scene of occurrence is the proximity of time, the proximity of the police station and the continuity of action. The expression suggests not necessarily proximity of time so much as continuity of action and purpose.[2]

Illustration

A is accused of the murder of B by beating him. Whatever was said or done by A or B or by the bystanders at the beating, or so shortly before or after it as to form part of the transaction, is a relevant fact.

A transaction may constitute a single incident occupying a few moments or it may be spread over a variety of acts, declaration etc. All these constitute incidents, which though not strictly constituting a fact in issue, accompany and tend to explain or qualify the fact in issue. All these facts are relevant only when they are connected by the proximity of time, unity or proximity of place, continuity of action and community of purpose or design.[3]

Relevance of Facts

This section acknowledges a very wide spectrum of facts, though not part of the transaction, related to the facts in question or relevant facts. Under this section, facts that form part of the same transaction are admissible. It is relevant fact which is, immediately or otherwise, the reason, cause or effect of relevant facts or facts in issue or which reflect the situation in which they occurred, or which provided an occasion for their existence or transaction. Evidence relating to collateral facts is admissible when such facts will, if established reasonable presumption as to the matter in dispute and when such evidence is reasonably conclusive.  The section specifies for the admission of many categories of facts relating, in particular, to the transaction under investigation,

(1) As being the occasion or cause of a fact;

(2) As being its effect;

(3) As giving an opportunity for its occurrence; and

(4) As constituting the state of things under which it happened.

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Case Laws

  1. Words accompanying physical acts

All spontaneous statements in some way associated with the transaction under investigation are not admissible. It must be shown that the statement is a part of the transaction. The statement is not admissible only because it is uttered in the course of the transaction.

A woman with a throat cut came out of the room all of a sudden and said to the witness “aunt see what Bedingfield has done to me”. It was held by C.J Cockburn that it is not admissible as Res Gestae because the statement was made after the end of the incident[4].

The decision of Bedingfield case was too strict as it precisely illustrates the erstwhile principle used to describe the Res Gestae exception, which often resulted in unjust consequences and was overruled. In Ratten’s case [5]  the doctrine of Res Gestae was defined in liberal and wider terms and accepted the test of “spontaneity and involvement”.

Lord Wilberforce in Ratten’s case contended that the test should not be the uncertain one whether the making of the statement was in some sense part of the transaction. This may often be difficult to establish and therefore he emphasized spontaneity as the basis of the test. He asserted that “hearsay evidence may be admitted if the statement providing it is made in such conditions (always being those of approximate but not exact contemporaneity) of involvement or pressure as to exclude the possibility of concoction or distortion to the advantage of the maker or the disadvantage of the accused.”

Therefore, the principal of admissibility of declarations accompanying acts[6]

  • The declaration (oral and written) must relate to the act which is in issue or relevant thereto; they are not admissible merely because they accompany an act. Moreover, the declaration must relate to and explain the fact they accompany, and not independent facts previous or subsequent thereto unless such facts are part of a transaction which is continuous.
  • The declaration must be substantially contemporaneous with the fact and not merely the narrative of a past.
  • The declaration and the act maybe by the same person, or they may be by a different person, e.g. the declarations of the victim, assailant, and bystanders. In the conspiracy, riot the declarations of all concerned in the common object is admissible.
  • Though admissible to explain or corroborate, or to understand the significance of the act, the declaration is not evidence of the truth of the matters stated.

The traditionally cited principle behind this exception is that an individual who makes a statement immediately after a stressful event lacks sufficient time or capacity to fabricate a lie about what happened. Thus, this class of statements contains sufficient indicia of reliability so as to be admitted despite its hearsay character.[7]

  1. When FIR becomes Res gestae

 Shyam Nandan Singh V. State of Bihar[8]

 Shortly after the incident, an FIR was filed by people who witnessed it. It was considered to be a part of the occurrence so that it came under the purview of Section 6.

  1. Res Gestae when not admissible

State of Andhra Pradesh v/s Panna Satyanarayan [9]

The accused murdered his wife and daughter. The Father of the deceased wife stated that the father of the accused told him on the telephone that his son had killed the deceased. There was no finding as to whether the information given by accused’s father to the deceased’s father that the accused had killed the deceased was at the time of the commission of the crime or immediately thereafter so as to form the part of the same transaction. The statement was held to be not relevant under section 6.

Gentela Vijay Vardhan Rao and others v/s State of Andhra pradesh[10]

The accused sneaked into passenger bus with most inflammable liquid, petrol and match-box and then set it at blaze as a result 23 passengers were roasted to death. In view of an appreciable interval between acts of carnage and magistrate’s recording of statement, the statements recorded by magistrate did not form part of res gestae.

Expansion of Res Gestae

Courts enlarged this section’s application to cases such as domestic violence, child witness, etc. Domestic violence and abuse cases usually require a shocking occurrence, which poses the issue of excited utterances. Also, rape cases often happen in solitary. And so there is no eye witness to such a case. In these cases, the accused can only be named by victims. And such victim testimony must be accepted.

Conclusion

Evidence is usually provided to res gestae if it cannot be taken to any other section of the Indian Evidence Act. Lawmakers’ intent was to stop prejudice where cases are dismissed because of the absence of proof. If any statement under Section 6 is not admissible, the statement may still be admissible as corroborative proof in compliance with Section 157.


[1] 1956 INDLAW CAL 105.

[2] Ganesh vs R, A 1931 P 52.

[3] Amritalavs R 42 C 957.

[4] R v. Bedingfied, (1695)6 Skin 402.

[5] Ratten v. Reginam, 1971 INDLAW PC 6.

[6] Sarkar p.211.  

[7] Ohio vs Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 57 (1980).

[8] 1991 (39) BLJR 1298, 1991 Cri LJ 3350.

[9] AIR 2000 SC 2138.

[10] Criminal Appeal No. 195 of 1996.

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