Confession under the Indian Evidence Act 1872

  • What do you understand by Confession?
  • How does confession differ from admission?
  • State the law relating to confessions. What is Judicial and Extra-Judicial confession?
  • Under what circumstances is it relevant and when can it not be proved?
  • State the extent, relevancy, and admissibility of a confession as evidence.
  • How far can the statements of the accused made before the police be used against him?     

General Concept of Confession –
The term confession is not defined anywhere in the Indian Evidence Act. But it is thought that an Admission in case of a criminal matter is a Confession.  The same was stated by STEPHEN in his digest that a confession is an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed the crime.  However, Privy Council, in the case of Pakala Narayan Swami vs Emperor AIR 1939, did not accept this definition. In this case, Lord ATKIN observed that no statement that contains self-exculpatory matter can amount to a confession.

Further, a confession must either admit in terms of the offense or at any rate substantially all the facts which constitute the offense. An offense of a gravely incriminating fact is not in itself a confession. For example, an admission that the accused is the cover of and was in recent possession of the knife or revolver which caused death with no explanation of any other man’s possession is not a confession even though it strongly suggests that the accused has committed the murder.

The decision by Privy Council in Pakala Narayan Swami case was approved by SC in the case of Palvinder Kaur vs State of Punjab, AIR 1952. In this case, Palvinder was on trial for the murder of her husband along with another, who all the time remained absconding. In her statement to the court, her husband was a hobbyist photographer and used to keep handy photo development material which is quick poison.

On this occasion, he was ill and she brought him some medicine the medicine was kept near the liquid developer and by mistake swallowed the liquid and died. She got afraid and with the help of the absconder, she dumped the body in the well. The statement, thus, partially admitted guilt and partially showed innocence. Here, the lower courts sorted out the exculpatory part and convicted her on the inculpatory part. However, SC rejected this approach and held that the rule regarding confession and admission is that they must either be accepted or rejected as a whole.

Difference between Confession and Admission
This brings us to the main difference between admission and confession. Admission is a statement that may or may not be conclusive evidence of a fact in an issue or relevant fact but to be a confession, the admission must conclusively prove the guilt of the maker of the admission.  For example, in the case of Veera Ibrahim vs State of Maharashtra, AIR 1976, a person being prosecuted under Customs Act told the customs officer that he did not know that the goods loaded in his truck were contraband nor were they loaded with his permission. SC held that the statement was not a confession but it did amount to an admission of an incriminating fact that the truck was loaded with contraband material.

Thus,  a statement that may not amount to confession may still be relevant as admission. Only a voluntary and direct acknowledgment of guilt is a confession, but when a confession falls short of actual admission of guilt, it may nevertheless be used as evidence under Section 21.

Regarding admission that contains multiple sentences, Justice Thomas, of SC, stated the law in the case of Lokeman Shah vs the State of WB, AIR 2001 as follows –
The test of discerning whether a statement recorded by a judicial magistrate under Section 164 of CrPC, is confessional or not is not to determine it by dissecting the statement into different sentences and then picking out some as not inculpative. The statement must be read as a whole and then only the court should decide whether it contains admissions of his inculpatory involvement in the offense. If the result of that test is positive the statement is confessional otherwise not.

Classification of Confessions
A confession may occur in any form. It may be made to the court itself, or to anybody outside the court. In this manner, a confession may be divided into two categories – Judicial Confession and Extra-judicial Confession.

Judicial Confession –  A judicial confession is a confession that is made in front of a magistrate or in a court. It may be made in the course of a judicial proceeding.
Extra-Judicial Confession –  An extra-judicial confession is a confession that is made by the party elsewhere than before a magistrate or in a court. It is admissible in evidence under Section 21 and it is proved by the witnesses who had heard the speaker’s words constituting the confession.

A confession may even consist of a conversation with oneself. For example, in the case of Sahoo vs State of UP, AIR 1966, an accused who was charged with the murder of his daughter-in-law with whom he was always quarreling was seen on the day of the murder going out of the home saying words to the effect, “I have finished her and with her the daily quarrels.”. The statement was held to be a valid confession because it is not necessary for the relevance of a confession that it should communicate to some other person.

Relevancy of Confessions –
Confessions when Not Relevant
A confession becomes irrelevant and thus, inadmissible, in situations described in Sections 24, 25, and 26.
1. Section 24 – Confession caused by inducement, threat, or promise from a person in authority – Confession made by an accused is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding if the making of the confession appears to the court to have been caused by inducement, threat, or promise, made by any person in authority and that in the view of the court such inducement, threat, or promise gives reasonable ground to the person that by making the confession he would gain any advantage or avoid any evil of a temporary nature in reference to the proceedings against him.
The following conditions are necessary to attract the provisions of this section –

  1. The confession must have been made because of inducement, threat, or promise –  A confession should be free and voluntary. If it flows from fear or hope, it is inadmissible. In deciding whether a particular confession is because of a threat, inducement, or promise, the question has to be considered from the point of view of the accused as to how the inducement, threat, or promise would operate in his mind. For example, where the accused was told by the magistrate, “tell me where the things are and I will be favorable to you”, it was held to be inadmissible. 
  2. The inducement, threat, or promise, must be made by a person in authority – A person in authority is not merely a police officer or a magistrate but every such person who can reasonably hold sway over the investigation or trial. Thus, government officials such as senior military officers, police constables, wardens, and clerks of the court, all have been held to be a person in authority. Even private persons such as the wife of the employer were also held to be a person in authority.
  3. It should relate to the charge in question – This requirement is specifically stated in the section, which says that the inducement must have “a reference to the charge against the accused person”. Thus, in the case of Empress vs Mohan Lal, 1881, the confession by a person who was threatened to be removed from his caste for life, was held to be relevant because the threat did not have anything to do with the charge. The position in English law is not the same. In fact, J ATKINSON has said that this rule is illogical and unreasonable. For example, a daughter is accused of shoplifting, and later on, her mother is also accused of the same offense. Now, if the mother is induced to confess by saying that if she confesses to the charge, proceedings against her daughter will be dropped, this will most like lead to an untrue confession. Yet, it would be valid under this section. 
  4. It should hold out some material, worldly, or temporal benefit or advantage – The inducement should be about some tangible benefit. For example, a reference to spiritual benefit such as taking an accused to a temple to confess does not fall in this category but a promise to reduce the sentence would fall under it.

It is necessary that all the conditions must exist cumulatively. Further, this section merely requires that if it “appears to the court” that the confession was improperly obtained, it becomes inadmissible i.e. if the circumstances create a probability in the mind of the court that the confession is improperly obtained, it may hold it inadmissible.

2. Confessions to Police – It is presumed that police hold a position of great influence over the actions of the accused and so there is a high probability that confessions obtained by the police are tainted with threat or inducement. Further, it is important to prevent the practice of oppression or torture by the police to extract the confession.  This principle is espoused by Sections 25 and 26, which are as follows –
Section 25 – Confession to police officer not to be proved – No confession made to a police officer shall be proved as against a  person accused of any offense.  This section is very broadly worded. It strictly disallows any confession made to the police officer as inadmissible no matter what the circumstances. In the case of Raja Ram vs State of Bihar, AIR 1964, SC held that the term police officer is not been be interpreted strictly but must be given a more comprehensive and popular meaning. However, these words are also not to be construed in so wide a sense as to include a person on whom only some powers exercised by the police are conferred. The test for determining whether such a person is a police officer is whether the powers are such as would tend to facilitate the obtaining of confession by him from a suspect. Thus, a chowkidar, a police patrol, a village headman, and an excise officer, are all considered to be police officers.
Section 26 – Confession by accused while in the custody of police not to be proved against him – No confession made by any person whilst he is in the custody of a police officer, unless it is made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate, shall be proved as against such person. This section further tries to ensure that the confession is not extracted due to the influence of the police. Any confession made while the maker is in the custody of the police is invalid unless it is made in the immediate presence of a magistrate. The presence of a magistrate is, by a legal fiction, regarded as equivalent to the removal of police influence and the statement is therefore considered to be free from police influence.
The mere absence of the police officer from a room where confession is taken does not terminate his custody of the accused. The word custody does not just mean formal custody but includes such a state of affairs in which the accused can be said to have come into the hands of a police officer or can be said to have been under some sort of surveillance or restriction.

Section 27 provides another exception when a confession made to the police is admissible. This is when a confession leads to the discovery of a fact connected with the crime. The discovery assures that the confession is true and reliable even if it was extorted. In order to ensure the genuineness of recoveries, it has become a practice to effect the recoveries in the presence of witnesses.

Constitutionality of Section 27 –  Indian Evidence Act was written before the Constitution of India and Article 20(3) of the constitution says that no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. This article seemingly made Section 27 unconstitutional. SC considered this issue in the case of Nisa Sree vs State of Orissa AIR 1954, and held that it is not violative of Article 20(3). A confession may or may not lead to the discovery of an incriminating fact. If the discovered fact is nonincriminatory, there is no issue and if it is self-incriminatory, it is admissible if the information is given by the accused without any threat.

Confessions when Relevant –
The following three types of confession are relevant and admissible –

1. Section 27 – Confession leading to a discovery –  Explained above.

2. Section 28 – Confessions made after removal of threat –  If the confession is obtained after the impression caused by threat, inducement, or promise is removed in the opinion of the court, then the confession is admissible.

3. Section 29 –  Confession made under promise, deception, etc. –  If a confession is otherwise relevant, it does not become irrelevant merely because it was made –
(a) under a promise of secrecy or
(b) in consequences of a deception practiced on the accused person for the purpose of obtaining it or
(c) while the accused was drunk or
(d) while answering the questions he need not have answered or
(e) when the accused was not warned that he was not bound to make such confession and that evidence of it might be given against him.

The basis of this section is that any breach of confidence or of good faith or practice of any artifice does not invalidate a confession. However, a confession obtained by mere trickery does not carry much weight. For example, in one case, an accused was told that somebody saw him doing the crime and because of this the accused made a confession. The court held the confession inadmissible. In Rex vs Shaw, A was accused of murder, and B, a fellow prisoner, asked him about how he did he do the murder. A said, “Will you be upon your oath not to mention what I tell you?”, to which B promised on his oath that he will not tell anybody. A then made a statement. It was held that it was not such an inducement that would render the confession inadmissible.

The five circumstances mentioned in the section are not exhaustive.

Keywords: Admission in India, Concept of Admission, Definition of Admission under the Evidence Act 1872.

Click here to read the Indian Evidence Act 1872.

S.50 Evidence Act: Non-Production Of School Docs To Establish Relationship No Ground To Disbelieve Person With Special Knowledge Of Relation: Karnataka HC

Section 27 Evidence Act- Discovery Of Weapon At The Instance Of Accused By Itself Does Not Prove That He Had Concealed Or Used It: Supreme Court

S.106 Evidence Act | Husband Can’t Be Asked To Explain Wife’s Death In Their House Unless Prosecution Establishes Prima Facie Case: Bombay High Court