Doctrine of Res Gestae – History, Scope, Usage and Criticisms

By | October 12, 2019
Res Gestae

INTRODUCTION

‘Res Gestae’ is a Latin term which can roughly be translated to ‘things done’.[1] The concept of res gestae has emerged from the belief that certain acts or statements, which may otherwise be irrelevant and inadmissible, may be admitted as evidence due to the very situation in which they were committed or uttered.

The doctrine of res gestae is generally used to admit a potentially inadmissible piece of evidence in order to provide context to an event. Thus, one of the important requirements for the applicability of the doctrine is that the said act or statement must not exist in complete ‘factual isolation’.[2] Statements forming a part of res gestae are often admitted as evidence even though they may be hearsay. Thus, res gestae is also recognized as an exception to the general rule of hearsay evidence.

The rationale behind this is that human nature is such that sometimes the words uttered and actions have done are so interwoven with each other that it becomes difficult to view the action in total isolation and doing so might lead to a miscarriage of justice. Therefore, such statements were declared to be a part of res gestae and an exception to the rule of hearsay evidence. Let us look at the historical development of the principle or doctrine of res gestae in common law.

HISTORY

The doctrine of res gestae can be traced back to as far as 1693 when in the case of Thompson v. Trevanion[3] the court admitted a declaration accompanying an act as evidence giving the justification that it provides an explanation regarding the commission of the act. Although it was later discussed upon and used in a number of subsequent cases,[4] its development began only in 1805 after the case of Aveson v. Lord Kinnaird.[5]

The scope and applicability of the concept gained the attention of scholars and jurists after the infamous case of R. v. Bedingfield[6] wherein Cockburn C.J. ruled that a res gestae statement cannot be made after the transaction. In this particular case, the accused had slit the throat of the deceased who ran outside and told a witness to look at what the accused had done.

The Court ruled that since the statement was made after the throat had been slit, it cannot be said to be a res gestae statement. This decision was later overruled in the case of Ratten v. R.[7] wherein it was stated that a res gestae statement may even be made immediately after the transaction. The scope of the doctrine of res gestae in common law was further widened by this decision.

UNDER INDIAN LAW

The concept made its way to the Indian Evidence Law in the form of section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which reads as, “Relevancy of facts forming part of the same transaction. –– 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 or at different times and places.”

The provision is contained in Chapter-II of the Act which deals with the ‘Relevancy of Facts’. It begins with section 5 which states that evidence may be given to prove the existence or non-existence of a fact in issue, that is, a fact which has been submitted to the judicial investigation, or any other fact which has been declared relevant by the statute.

Following this is section 6 which provides that even though a fact may not be ‘in issue’ but is connected to such a fact so deeply that it forms a part of the same event or ‘transaction’, it is a relevant fact and evidence may be submitted to prove or disprove it u/s 5 of the Act. The facts may have occurred at the same time and place or at different times and places.

The provision inter alia covers the following:-

  • Statements made by either of the parties or by any by-stander during or shortly before or after the event
  • Facts containing the effects of the act committed by the accused, regardless of the fact that he might not have caused all of them himself.
  • Facts which provide context to an event even though they may not constitute the event itself.

Test for Applicability

The foremost requirement for the applicability of the section is that the fact must be a part of the ‘same transaction’. The following requirements must be fulfilled in order to conclude that the facts are a part of the same transaction:-

  • They must be in close proximity of time, so much so that there remains no possibility of concussion or fabrication.
  • They must have occurred at the same place or at different places which are in close proximity to each other.
  • There must be certain continuity in action.
  • There must be a ‘community of purpose’.

The courts have used the aforementioned test to determine the applicability of section 6 in a case. Gestures made by the victim while dying may also qualify as res gestae.[8] As far as statements are concerned, the Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Krishna Kumar Malik v. State of Haryana[9] that the doctrine of res gestae is an exception to the rule of hearsay evidence. It further observed that for a statement to be admissible under section 6 of the Evidence Act, it must be made contemporaneously with the act or immediately thereafter.[10]

Where there was a significant time lapse between the occurrence of the event and recording of statement of injured victims by the magistrate, it was held that the statements will not qualify as res gestate statements u/s 6 of the Evidence Act.[11] In another case,[12] the witnesses arrived at the place of occurrence immediately after the completion of the event and heard a full account of what had happened. Their testimony was considered valid u/s 6 of the Evidence Act. It is essential to note here that only a statement of fact can form part of res gestae and not a statement of opinion.

Widening Scope

Initially, the doctrine of res gestae was mainly applied to cases involving murder. However, over time the courts have started applying the doctrine in cases of rape, domestic violence, etc. which are generally based on circumstantial evidence.

The requirement of the proximity of time is given relaxation in cases of rape and domestic violence due to the general attitude of the Indian society on the issue which discourages women from immediately coming out to seek legal redressal or help. Thus, a statement made by the victim in cases of rape and domestic violence even after the lapse of time may fall under the purview of section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, provided that it has been established that the victim was still under some kind of shock or trauma due to the incident. The same rule of relaxation may also apply to cases involving child witnesses.

An interesting decision of the Patna High Court in the case of Shyam Nandan Singh v. State of Bihar[13] is worth discussing in the light of the widening scope of the doctrine of res gestae. In this particular case, the deceased and her mother went to a field where they were stopped by the accused from harvesting crops and they slit the throat of the deceased who had raised an alarm. The deceased’s mother narrated the events to the people who had gathered due to the alarm and went to lodge an FIR in nearby police station along with them. Subsequently, the mother passed away before she could be examined.

The issue before the court was pertaining to the admissibility of the FIR as res gestae since it was lodged by the mother who had seen the incidents first hand. The council on behalf of the accused argued that FIR can only be used as a corroborative piece of evidence and not as substantial evidence.

The court, after careful consideration, ruled that the FIR is a relevant fact under the provisions of section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. However, it further stated that, since the person who has lodged the FIR in the instant case has passed away before she could be examined, the FIR is required to be used as substantive evidence. This cannot be done since the general rule is that FIR is supposed to be used only as a corroborative piece of evidence. Therefore, the court allowed the appeal and acquitted the accused.

The rule of res gestae is generally extended to acts done or statements made. By bringing an FIR within its purview, the court has made room for expansion of the scope of section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

CRITICISM

The concept of res gestae has been subjected to criticism since its very inception. The concept has been remarked to be conveniently obscure leaving an ample amount of room for loopholes and multiple interpretations.

Wigmore has even criticized the very nomenclature stating that the rule is overlapping with one or the other well-established principle of the law of evidence. He has stated that the phrase ‘Res Gestae’ is ambiguous and, therefore, harmful for use.

CONCLUSION

The rule of res gestae is often used as the last resort. The legislative rationale behind the inclusion of the rule in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, was to make sure that no criminal walks away freely due to lack of evidence against him. The rule of res gestae has been subjected to criticism for its nomenclature as well as its obscurity. However, when looked at from a different angle, the vagueness and obscurity enable the courts to judge each case on its own merits.

The exact contents and requirements of res gestae are still subjected to interpretation on a case-to-case basis.

Moreover, as we have already seen, the scope and horizons of the doctrine are expanding through various judicial decisions over time. This particular trend, in a way, justifies the legislative rationale behind the provision and may even be helpful for the overall realization of the constitutional goal of ‘justice for all’ which has been subtly highlighted in the preamble.


[1] Black’s Law Dictionary. 8th Ed. p. 1335.

[2]LawTeacher, The Doctrine of Res Gestae (November 2013) Available from https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/common-law/the-doctrine-of-res-gestae-law-essays.php?vref=1

[3] 1693 Skin 402.

[4] Ambrose v. Clendon Rep. Temp. Hardw. 267; Home Tooke’s trial 25 Howells State trials, 444 (1794); Hoare v. Allen H.T. 1801 N.P. 3 Esp. 276.

[5] (1805) 6 East 188.

[6] [1879]14 Cox C.C. 341

[7] [1972] AC 378.

[8] Queen v. Abdullah (1885) ILR 7 All 385.

[9] 4 (2011) 7 SCC 130.

[10] Id.

[11] Gentela Vijayvardhan Rao and Anr. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1996) 6 SCC 241.

[12] Bishna v. State of West Bengal AIR 2006 SC 302.

[13] 1991 Cri LJ 3350.


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