Is An Accomplice A Credible Witness?
Though the word ‘accomplice’ has not specifically been defined in the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order 1984, there are certain provisions that have been enumerated, not only in the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order (QSO) but also in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1898, which deal with the word ‘accomplice’. However, in its ordinary sense, accomplice means a person who voluntarily participates in the commission of an offence. The Federal Shariat Court, in its judgment titled Haider Hussain vs. Govt. of Pakistan, interprets the word accomplice in the following words:
“An accomplice is a co-accused, an associate or partner who has such relation to the criminal act that he [or she] can be jointly charged with the other accused.”
Generally, an accomplice, under Article 129 illustration(b) of QSO, is unworthy of credit and is an unreliable person for he or she has betrayed his or her associates and must be punished with the others who have been accused. However, under QSO 1984, for the purpose of extracting evidence against the greater offenders, the evidence of an accomplice is admissible if he or she has been tendered a pardon under section 337 of the CrPC 1898 because he or she gives evidence under a promise of pardon that he or she will disclose all details he or she knows against those with whom he or she acted criminally.
At a glance, articles 16 and 129, illustration(b) of QSO may seem like conflicting provisions and may be confusing for law students and laypersons to understand.
Article 16 states the following:
“An accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person, except in the case of an offence punishable with hadd; and a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.”
However, Illustration(b) of Article 129 states that,
“An accomplice is unworthy of credit, unless he is corroborated in material particulars.”
The former provision pertains to the rule of law while the latter pertains to the rule of prudence. Therefore, it can be concluded that both provisions are neither contradictory nor repugnant to each other, rather both supplement to each other.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan in its judgment titled Federation of Pakistan vs. Muhammad Shafi Muhammadi (SCMR 932) held that,
“In such a case of apparent conflict, the court is required to place such construction which may harmonize the two provisions.”
According to the rule of construction, an accomplice is a competent witness and conviction may lawfully rest upon the uncorroborated testimony, however, the court is entitled to presume that no reliance can be placed on the evidence of an accomplice, unless that evidence is corroborated in material particulars. The reason behind the corroboration is that the accomplice is likely to swear falsely in order to shift guilt from himself or herself. In this regard, a test was also laid down by the Supreme Court of India in a leading case, Sarwan Singh vs. State of Punjab (AIR 1957 SC 673), by which the rule of a double-test was introduced. As per this rule, the accomplice’s evidence must show that he or she is a reliable witness and his or her evidence must receive sufficient corroboration.
In the light of the above-mentioned judgments, it can be concluded that an accomplice is a competent witness in tazir offences, but cannot be granted pardon in hadd offences.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organisation with which he might be associated.