Substantive Documents, and Documents used for Corroboration, Refreshing Memory and Contradicting Witnesses

Saji Koduvath, Advocate, Kottayam.

A document is exhibited in court for placing its ‘writings’ or ‘contents’ for judicial consideration. Such document must be relevant and admissible. 

Relevancy of Documents

Sec. 5 and 136 of the Evidence Act stipulate that evidence can be given only on ‘facts in issue’ or ‘relevant facts’. Relevant facts are enumerated in Sec. 6 onwards.

Admissibility of Documents

Generally speaking, all relevant documents are admissible. But, various provisions of the Evidence Act, Civil and Criminal Procedure Codes, Stamp Act, Registration Act etc. stipulate various formalities or regulations for tendering documents in evidence. ‘Relevancy’ is a matter of judicial application of the mind by the court. But, ‘admissibility’ is governed solely by the legal principles.

Probative Value of Documents

Whenever a document is admitted in court, the probative value thereof will be a matter for the court to determine.

State of Bihar v. Radha Krishna Singh (AIR 1983 SC 684) it is observed:

  • “Admissibility of a document is one thing and its probative value quite another—these two aspects cannot be combined. A document may be admissible and yet may not carry any conviction and weight or its probative value may be nil.”

If there is a dispute regarding age, the Supreme Court, in State of Punjab Vs. Mohinder Singh (AIR 2005 SC 1868), held that the date of birth available in the School Admission Register has more probative value than the horoscope. The probative value of FIR, Scene-Mahazar, Post-Mortem Report, photocopy of a Registered Deed etc., by itself, will be lesser. In such cases the court can refrain from acting upon such documents until substantive or regular evidence is offered, by examining the proper witness.

In Om Prakash Vs. State of Punjab, 1993(2) CLR 395, and Jora Singh Vs. State of Punjab, 1984(2) Crimes 837, it has been held that an entry in the school leaving certificate regarding date of birth of a student is not a conclusive proof or high ‘probity evidence’because it is a matter of common knowledge that the date of birth given at the time of the admission of a boy or girl in a school is seldom correct and more often than not the age given is less than the actual age of the child. (See also: C. Doddanarayana Reddy Vs. C. Jayarama Reddy: AIR 2020 SC 1912; Commissioner of Central Excise And Service Tax v. M/S. Sanjivani Non-Ferrous Trading: AIR 2019 SC 203.)

Substantive Evidence and Evidence for Refreshing Memory.

A Post-Mortem Report, Wound Certificate or Commission Report in a former case is not a substantive evidence.  Doctor or Commissioner can refresh memory (Sec. 159, Evid. Act) with reference to the document. Similarly, mere marking of a Scene Mahazar, without examining the Investigating Officer who prepared it, will not render substantive aid to the prosecution case.

In Rameshwar Dayal v. State of U.P., AIR 1978 SC 1558, referring to Inquest Report, Site Plans etc., it is held by the Supreme Court, as follows:

  • “That part of such documents which is based on the actual observation of the witness at the spot being direct evidence in the case is clearly admissible under Section 60 of the Evidence Act whereas the other part which is based on information given to the Investigating Officer or on the statement recorded by him in the course of investigation is inadmissible under Section 162 CrPC except for the limited purpose mentioned in that section.”

[See also: Munshi Prasad Vs. State of Bihar,(2002) 1SCC 351; State of Haryana v. Ram Singh,  (2002) 2SCC 426; Vijay Paul v. State of Delhi: 2015 SC 1495; Mohanan v. State of Kerala: 2011(4) KLT 59.]

What is ‘Certificate’, in Law

A certificate, in most cases, is an opinion, and prepared on the basis of other documents or evidences. In such cases, when it is an assumption or inference, it by itself, is not admissible, as it will only be, at the most, a secondary evidence. A Wound Certificate is not a substantive evidence. It has to be proved by a competent witness. If presumption cannot be invoked under Clause (e) of Sec. 114 Evidence Act (that judicial and official acts have been regularly performed), no certificate or report can be taken as proved unless its contents are proved in a formal manner. (This is why Order XXVI rule 10 CPC specifically says – Commission Report shall ‘form part of the record’.)

Our Apex Court held in Dharmarajan v. Valliammal, 2008 (2) SCC 741, that ‘a certificate issued by the Tahsildar cannot be relied on without examining the Tahsildar who issued the same’. It is referred to in Pankajakshan Nair v. Shylaja, ILR 2017-1 Ker 951.

Documents used for Contradicting

Credit of a witness can be impeached under Sec. 155 (3) of the Evidence Act with reference to his previous statements. Sec. 145 is the provision to cross examine a witness with regard to his previous writing. Sec. 145 reads as under:

  • “145. Cross-examination as to previous statements in writing.—A witness may be cross-examined as to previous statements made by him in writing or reduced into writing, and relevant to matters in question, without such writing being shown to him, or being proved; but, if it is intended to contradict him by the writing, his attention must, before the writing can be proved, be called to those parts of it which are to be used for the purpose of contradicting him.”

Sec. 145 Enables to Contradict Witnesses with his previous statements:

  1. Without the (previous) writing being shown to him.
  2. Without such writing being proved.
  3. When the writing is used to contradict the witness and his attention is called to those parts of it (that are to be used for contradicting), the writing need not be shown to the counsel of the witness (or other side) for his perusal.
  4. The writing need not be one that is admissible in evidence (it can be unstamped, even if it requires stamp; or unregistered, even if it requires registration).
  5. Material ‘omissions’ (in the previous writings) may amount to contradiction.

Conditions for invoking Sec. 145:

  1. The writing must be a ‘previous’ one.
  2. The (previous) writing must be of that witness himself.
  3. It must be relevant to matters in question
  4. If it is intended to contradict the witness by the writing, “his attention must be called” to those parts of it which are to be used for the purpose of contradicting him.
  5. If the witness denies (or says that he does not remember) such previous statement it can be proved, subsequently (for impeaching the credit of the witness).
  6. If the writing is not ‘ready with’ the cross examiner while the attention of the witness is called to those parts used for the purpose of contradicting him, the cross examiner must have ‘undertaken’ to prove the document, and the Court must have given the permission as envisaged in Sec. 136 of the Evidence Act.
    • Section 136 Evidence Act reads as under:Judge to decide as to admissibility of evidence:
    • When either party proposes to give evidence of any fact, the Judge may ask the party proposing to give the evidence in what manner the alleged fact, if proved, would be relevant; and the Judge shall admit the evidence if he thinks that the fact, if proved, would be relevant, and not otherwise.
    • If the fact proposed to be proved is one of which evidence is admissible only upon proof of some other fact, such last-mentioned fact must be proved before evidence is given of the fact first-mentioned, unless the party undertakes to give proof of such fact, and the Court is satisfied with such undertaking.
    • If the relevancy of one alleged fact depends upon another alleged fact being first proved, the Judge may, in his discretion, either permit evidence of the first fact to be given before the second fact is proved, or require evidence to be given of the second fact before evidence is given of the first fact.
  7. When it is to be proved, original or other admissible copy must be produced.
  8. Though statement in an inadmissible document can be used for contradiction (without showing him), if the witness is to be cross examined showing him his previous ‘unstamped’ statement (especially when it is with respect to his signature – used by showing the document) it must be an ‘admissible’ one as regards stamp, inasmuch as Sec. 35 of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 directs that no instrument chargeable with duty shall be ‘admitted’ in evidence ‘for any purpose’ by any person having by law or consent of parties authority to receive evidence (V.  Madhusudhan Rao v. S.  Nirmala Bai, AIR 2019 AP  93; SMS Tea Estates Pvt. Ltd. v. M/s. Chandmari Tea Co. (2011) 14 SCC 66 – followed in Naina Thakkar v. Annapurna Builders, (2013) 14 SCC 354).
    • Note: Now, this matter (qua – arbitration clause in an agreement) is pending consideration before a Constitutional Bench as referred to by N. N.  Global Mercantile Private Limited v. Indo Unique Flame Limited, 2021 SCC Online 13). As of now, unstamped or improperly stamped documents can be used only after paying stamp duty (with or without penalty, as the case may be).
    • Read Blog: Unstamped & Unregistered Documents and Collateral Purpose
  9. But, an unregistered compulsory-registrable-document can be ‘used’ and ‘admitted’ under Sec. 145, as it is a ‘collateral purpose’ [Section 49 of the Registration Act itself allows it – to use such documents for ‘collateral purpose’. See: K.B. Saha and Sons Private Limited v. Development Consultant Limited, (2008) 8 SCC 564; S. Kaladevi vs V.R. Somasundaram (2010) 5 SCC 401].
  10. Even if the ‘right to give evidence’ of a party ‘is over’, the courts will allow that party to ‘prove’ the document (under the second limb of Sec. 145), subsequently. For example – If the contradiction arises when the defendants’ witness is cross examined, the plaintiff can adduce evidence without ‘reopening’ his evidence (for, this provision is a statutory one).

Important points to be noted while invoking Sec. 145

  1. If the witness admits the previous statement, no question as to ‘producing’ or ‘proving’ or ‘marking’ the same arises for consideration.
  2. The purposes of invoking sec. 145 are only to test the veracity of the statement made by a witness in his examination-in-chief, and also to impeach his credit (Tahsildar Singh v. The State of UP, AIR 1959 SC 1012) under Sec. 155 (3).
  3. Even if the document or the contradicting part is marked, and it is proved (for the purpose of contradicting him), it cannot be read in evidence; because, such writing will not be a substantive evidence (and the purpose of this provision is only impeaching the credit of the witness)
  4. The court has to allow the cross examiner to produce and prove the previous statement, if the witness denies such previous statement, even if technically his ‘evidence is over’ (it being statutory right).
  5. When an ‘omission’ is to be proved, the ‘specific part’ of the previous statement, where the omission ought to have been naturally stated, should be ‘put’ to the witness, for his explanation, if any. (See: Tahsildar Singh v. The State of UP, AIR 1959 SC 1012 – “if made, would have been recorded”). It is for 2 reasons:
    1. The section itself requires “his attention must be called to those parts of it which are to be used for the purpose of contradicting him”. It is to satisfy the principles of ‘natural justice’.
    2. The witness has a right to explain admissions under Sec. 31.
      • Evidence Act Sec. 31 reads: “Admissions not conclusive proof, but may estop.: Admissions are not conclusive proof of the matters admitted, but they may operate as estoppels under the provisions hereinafter contained.”
  6. If the cross examiner does not seek ‘explanation’ while putting the “those parts of (the previous statement) which are to be used for the purpose of contradicting him” the counsel who conducted the chief examination can seek the ‘explanation, if any’, in re-examination, on that contradictory-part (in the light of Sec. 31).
  7. ‘Cross Examination’ in Sec. 145 includes ‘cross examination’ showing the signature of the witness in the ‘previous statement’. (That is, a witness can be compelled to ‘refresh’ the document under Sec. 159.)

See Blog: How to Contradict a Witness under Sec. 145, Evidence Act

Documents used for Corroboration

            Courts adjudicate the issues before it based on substantive evidence. In several cases it may be unusual that no direct evidence comes forth; for example, sexual offences, conspiracy, etc. In some cases certain corroborative evidence, to the already placed substantive evidence, may assure confidence to the minds of judges.  Section 156 of the Evidence Act lays down that such testimonies can be brought into evidence. It is beyond doubt that such an evidence should also be an admissible one.

Section 156 of the Evidence Act reads as under:

  • “156. Questions tending to corroborate evidence of relevant fact, admissible.
  • When a witness whom it is intended to corroborate gives evidence of any relevant fact, he may be questioned as to any other circumstances which he observed at or near to the time or place at which such relevant fact occurred, if the Court is of opinion that such circumstances, if proved, would corroborate the testimony of the witness as to the relevant fact which he testifies.
  • Illustration A, an accomplice, gives an account of a robbery in which he took part. He describes various incidents unconnected with the robbery which occurred on his way to and from the place where it was committed. Independent evidence of these facts may be given in order to corroborate his evidence as to the robbery itself.”

The requirement of corroboration in certain cases is described by our Apex Court as under in Khema @ Khem Chandra v. The State of Uttar Pradesh (10 August, 2022) as under:

“21. This Court, in the celebrated case of Vadivelu Thevar v. State of Madras, (1957) SCR 981, has observed thus:

  • “…….Hence, in our opinion, it is a sound and well­established rule of law that the court is concerned with the quality and not with the quantity of the evidence necessary for proving or disproving a fact. Generally speaking, oral testimony in this context may be classified into three categories, namely:
    • Wholly reliable.
    • Wholly unreliable.
    • Neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable.
  • In the first category of proof, the court should have no difficulty in coming to its conclusion either way — it may convict or may acquit on the testimony of a single witness, if it is found to be above reproach or suspicion of interestedness, incompetence or subornation. In the second category, the court equally has no difficulty in coming to its conclusion. It is in the third category of cases, that the court has to be circumspect and has to look for corroboration in material particulars by reliable testimony, direct or circumstantial..……”
  • 22. We find that the testimony of Inder (PW­2) would fall under the 3rd category i.e. his evidence can be said to be “neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable”. As such, it will be necessary that there is some corroboration to his ocular testimony.”

Read in this Cluster  (Click on the topic):

Book No, 1 – Civil Procedure Code

Power of attorney

Title, ownership and Possession

Principles and Procedure

Land LawsTransfer of Property Act

Evidence Act – General

Contract Act


Stamp Act


Book No. 2: A Handbook on Constitutional Issues

Book No. 3: Common Law of CLUBS and SOCIETIES in India

Book No. 4: Common Law of TRUSTS in India

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