Relevancy and character evidence
Meaning of character, reputation and disposition.
The character of a person is qualities or virtues good or bad i.e his attributes which may lend it possible that he a wrong or that he may not commit a wrong. The past conduct or indulgence of the accused or the defendant in similar instances in the past may be evidence of his character. At the same time, the reputation of the person or the opinion of others about his disposition is also evidence of his character. If a good or bad character of the party concerned is relevant then the witnesses for reputation and disposition can be produced in the Court. Such witnesses will give evidence of their own view about the reputation or disposition of the person. While giving such evidence, as per the explanation the witness will not be required to state the specific incidents ay formed that opinion about the reputation or disposition.
For example – If the witness had formed a bad opinion about the disposition of the person because he saw him quarrelling with some other person, then in his evidence he will state only that in his opinion that a party is a person of bad disposition. But he will not state that he thinks so because he saw him quarrelling with some other person.
Sections 52 and 55 related to the character of a person in civil Cases.
Sections 53 and 54 related to the character of a person in Criminal Cases
As per section 52 good or bad character of any party in a civil suit is irrelevant to prove the conduct imputed upon him to be probable improbable and therefore party concerned cannot directly give evidence to prove good or bad character in the suit.
In civil cases what section 52 declares is that the good or bad character of a party is irrelevant. However, in the same section, it is declared that the above rule will not apply in those cases where the character is not proved by direct evidence but it can be inferred (appears) from the evidence proved regarding some other relevant fact. If a party wants to give evidence directly of some other character the opposite party or his own character.
However, if the same party wants to prove the previous conduct or similar occurrences regarding the opposite party then since these facts are relevant respectively u/s 8,14 evidence on such facts will be relevant.
However, upon the proof of these facts, the character of a party is also may be manifest or can be inferred by the court. The such character which is thus inferred from other relevant facts will not be hit by sec 52 and will be relevant.
The good character of the accused is relevant and may play a role in the acquittal of the accused and it may also play role in reducing the quantum of the sentence.
Bad character evidence is only relevant when given evidence of good character.
In criminal matters, the good character of the accused is per se relevant and therefore defence can give evidence of good character. However, the bad character of the accused is irrelevant unless the defence has given evidence of good character.
As per explanation 1 however, if the bad character of any accused is in itself a fact issued then the restrictions of section 54 will not apply and in a case, the prosecution can prove the bad character even without the defence giving the evidence of good character.
It is also declared in Exp 2 that any previous conviction of the accused is a piece of evidence of his bad character.
Section 54 restricts bad character evidence only if the prosecution seeks to prove it as a relevant fact before the good character evidence has been given by the defence. But section 54 does not put any restriction upon proving the bad character if is directly a fact in the issue. Thus if the bad character is directly a fact in issue then the prosecution can prove it even without the defence has given the evidence of good character.
Therefore if the bad character is directly a fact in issue then evidence of previous conviction also can be given without the defence proving the good character.
Section 75 of the IPC provides for the enhancement of sentence if the accused presently has been convicted for 3 years or more punishable offence Under chapters 12 and 17 of IPC and if it is proved that he was earlier also convicted for a similar offence fer Chapter 12 and I7 punishable with 3 years or more.
Section 55 – Character as affecting damages.
Section 55 makes the character relevant only to the extent of the Calculation of damages in favour of the plaintiff. The character of the plaintiff will be relevant u/s 55 and not of the defendant.
However, the character is relevant only with respect to the quantum of damages and not with respect to the cause of action.
Section 12 declares that any fact which helps in the determination of the quantum of damages will be relevant in a civil suit. Therefore u/s 12 even the character plaintiff and the defendant should be relevant. However, section 52 puts a bar upon such relevancy and therefore the character of either party should not be relevant in a civil suit either for deciding upon the cause action or for deciding upon the quantum of damages.
Nevertheless U/S 55 the character of the plaintiff have been declared to be relevant for the purpose of deciding the quantum of damages. This character will be relevant only to that extent and the defendant’s character will not be relevant.
EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF CHARACTER EVIDENCE
Character evidence only makes weight evidence. It is a substantive piece of evidence as it is declared to be a relevant fact u/s 52 till sec 55 as per the conditions. Even though it is substantive evidence its evidentiary value is very feeble (weak). It cannot be equated to facts like dying declaration, discovery statement etc.
In the cases where the court finds that the chain of circumstantial evidence is almost complete but there is a slight doubt regarding the conviction then if the bad character is relevant if proved it may provide the extra assurance to may the court to convict the accused ie it acts as a cementing material.
However in the same case if the good character is proven and is relevant then the court may give the benefit of doubt to the accused.