The Admissibility of a Judgment in a Criminal Proceeding vis-a-vis

The dichotomy of legal systems – An introduction to the issue at hand

Perhaps the primary distinguishing feature between man and beast is the formers dependence on society and society’s many features, including the laws that societies are based on and conform to. We are aware of the formation of political entities around the globe and their subsequent creation of laws due to which human society stands together in relative harmony today; however, it is important for the purposes of our discussion to look into the formation of two separate methods of adjudication within the primary judiciary that creates a distinction between cases of a criminal nature and cases of a civil nature – a distinction that exists even in today’s post colonial Indian context, that borrowed many features of its legal system from the British. [1] We now henceforth delve into the features of criminal proceedings and civil proceedings.

1.2. The features of criminal proceedings

In earlier times there existed no real distinction between criminal laws and civil laws, but over time it came to be recognized that certain crimes were more serious in nature and due to their detrimental reflection of the character of the offender in question and the subsequent implications of the offence being committed again needed to be argued for on behalf of the entire society and not just the victim; [2] the State thus took the responsibility of arguing such cases since such crimes were not crimes against individuals per se but crimes against society, and adequately by means of penal legislations enhanced the procedure and punishment for such cases. [3] 

1.3. The features of civil proceedings

Civil cases, on the other hand, form the broader spectrum of offences which are made so by legislations which detail the procedure to be followed in situations where offences detailed by the legislation are committed. It is safe to say that offences of a civil nature are understood to be relatively less serious than their criminal counterparts. This is evident through the differences in the nature of proceedings adopted in criminal cases and civil cases, which are provided for in the next section.

1.4. Primary differences between criminal and civil proceedings

An implication of the serious nature of criminal proceedings is the higher degree of proof that is required to convict a human being of a crime. It is established that civil proceedings use the system of ‘preponderance of probabilities’ to determine the rights and liabilities of individuals whereas criminal proceedings require the accused individual’s offence to be proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. [4] As stated by Denning J in the case of Miller v. Minister of Pensions with respect to the nature of proof beyond reasonable doubt, “If the evidence is so strong against a man as to leave only a remote possibility in his favour which can be dismissed with the sentence ‘of course it is possible, but not in the least probable’, the case is proved beyond reasonable doubt, but nothing short of that will suffice". [5] 

Therefore, a higher standard is used to determine the guilt of an individual accused of a crime, also owing to fact that the consequences are dire.

1.5. The issue of inter-admissibility of judgments arising from different proceedings

The concept of inter-admissibility of civil judgments in criminal proceedings and vice-versa theoretically and taken to its logical conclusion implies that statements reflecting the facts of a case, the application of appropriate laws to the case in question and the conclusion arising from the analysis in one proceeding can be used in the similar steps of the other proceeding (the two proceedings being civil and criminal). This argument is based on the premise that the concept of res judicata may apply in certain circumstances wherein one court has established certain facts and applied certain principles and another court looks into the very same facts and principles to determine liability of a different type, but nevertheless largely based upon the same premises. [6] A famous example used to illustrate this concept is, say, that D is convicted of rape of V. If D subsequently sues E for libel for writing that D is a rapist, a question arises as to whether E can adduce evidence of D’s conviction in support of his plea of justification. Furthermore, if C is subsequently prosecuted for the rape of V on the basis that C was D’s accomplice in a joint accomplice of rape, can the prosecution use D’s conviction in evidence against C? If D had been acquitted of raping V, similar questions could arise as to whether D and C respectively could rely upon the acquittal in the subsequent proceedings to support their denials of rape. [7] 

Objections to this principle also exist however; Murphy in his Law of Evidence states that there are two theoretical objections to the use of previous judgments to prove the truth of facts upon which they were based: The first is that such evidence would be mere evidence of the opinion of the previous court, by which strangers (i.e. those who were not parties) to the judgment are not bound, and should not be prejudiced. The second is that a judgment so used is, in effect, hearsay. [8] 

1.6. Statutory mention of inter-admissibility

Civil statutes in India do not make any particular mention of admissibility of criminal judgments in civil proceedings. [9] With respect to the admissibility of civil judgments in criminal proceedings however, the Indian Evidence Act, [10] on the other hand, mentions the relevancy of ‘other’ judgments and when they are admissible in Sections 40, 41, 42 and 43. The scheme of the Act is such that admissibility of judgments in other proceedings to criminal proceedings is an exception to the rule, and such exceptional features are laid out in the aforesaid provisions.

Section 40 of the Indian Evidence Act simply renders admissible judgments which operate as pleas in bar of the action of the kind of plea of res judicata or otherwise, under some other rule of law. The section does not deal with the questions of evidence beyond the admissibility of the judgments, because a plea of res judicata is not a plea as a matter of evidence, but only a plea barring the action as a matter of procedure as distinguished from the rules of evidence. [11] 

Section 41 deals with what is usually called judgments in rem, that is, judgments which are conclusive not only against parties to them, but against the world as a whole. [12] 

Section 42 deals with the admissibility of judgments relating to matters of a public nature; but such judgments, orders or decrees are not conclusive proof of that which they state. [13] 

Section 43 says that judgments other than those mentioned in ss. 40-42 are irrelevant unless the existence of such judgments is a fact in issue or is relevant under some other provisions of the Act. [14] 

Section 44 says that when any judgment, order or decree has been received under ss. 40-42, the adverse party may show that it was obtained by fraud or was delivered by a court without jurisdiction. [15] 

2.1. A case based analysis of the admissibility of civil judgments in criminal proceedings

Transactions unconnected with the facts in issue are, according to the general rule of relevancy, inadmissible in evidence. [16] The admissibility of a previous judgment is governed by the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and there is nothing in law to make the judgment of a civil court conclusive. [17] 

2.1.1. The position prior to 2002 – The case of V.M. Shah as the authority on the issue

In the case of V.M. Shah v. State of Maharashtra and another, [18] the primary question was whether a conviction under Section 630 of the Companies Act [19] was sustainable as per the facts. The case set out in the plaint and evidence adduced in proof of the issues framed was that the Company had tenancy rights in the flat. Upon joining the service, the appellant was inducted into possession. On his resignation and acceptance thereof, he ceased to be an employee of the Company. Consequently, the appellant was enjoined to deliver possession of the premises to the Company but he failed to do so.

The appellants contended that whatever were the findings recorded by the criminal court that were affirmed by the High Court on the liability of the appellant to deliver possession to the Company by operation of Section 630(1) of the Companies Act, [20] they were no longer tenable in view of the findings recorded by the Civil Court. Therefore, the orders passed under Section 630(1) of the Companies Act [21] were illegal and unsustainable. The Company contended that the findings of the small Causes Court were contrary to the evidence and clearly unsustainable. The respondents stated that in view of the concurrent findings recorded by the criminal courts for offence under Section 630(1) of the Companies Act, [22] the order passed would not become illegal; therefore, the appellant was liable to be ejected

The Court, after a perusal of the facts and precedent cases came to the conclusion that the civil court after trial recorded the finding that the appellant had not come into possession through the Company but had independent tenancy rights from the principal landlord and, therefore, the decree for eviction was negatived. Hence, until that finding was duly considered by the appellate Court after weighing the evidence afresh and if it so warranted reversed, the findings would bind the parties. The findings, recorded by the criminal court, would therefore stand superseded by the findings recorded by the civil court. Thereby, the findings of the civil court get precedence over the findings recorded by the trial court, in particular, in summary trial for offences like the one under the provision. The mere pendency of the appeal did not have the effect of suspending the operation of the decree of the trial Court and neither the finding of the civil court would get disturbed nor would the decree become inoperative.

Hence it was held that the appellant had not been in wrongful possession of the property entailing his conviction and punishment under Section 630 of the Companies Act [23] and requiring handing over of the possession of the flat.

2.1.2. The change in legal position subsequent to the K.G. Premshankar case decided in 2002

In the case of K.G. Premshanker v. Inspector of Police and Anr. [24] the issue was of the quashing of criminal proceedings on the ground of pendency of a civil suit on the same cause of action. The facts comprised of a criminal complaint alleging assault and harassment against police official while in custody, and during the pendency of such criminal proceedings the complainant filed a suit for damages for alleged acts but the trial court had dismissed the suit against which he had preferred the appeal before the High Court. The Appellants contended that as the suit was dismissed, the decision rendered by the civil court would prevail and therefore the criminal prosecution pending against the appellant and others was required to be dropped. The question for consideration was where the criminal case and the civil proceedings are for the same cause, whether the judgment of the civil court would be relevant if conditions of any of the Sections 40 to 43 of the Evidence Act, 1872 were satisfied. It was held that it could not be said that the same would be conclusive except as provided in Section 41. Hence, the observation made by the Supreme Court in the case of V.M. Shah v. State of Maharashtra and another, [25] that the findings recorded by the criminal court stands superseded by the finding recorded by the civil court was held to be not a correct enunciation of law. The final conclusion of the Supreme Court in this case was therefore that civil proceedings as well as criminal proceedings were required to be decided on the evidence, which were to be brought on record by the parties.

2.2. A case based analysis of the admissibility of criminal judgments in civil proceedings

It has been held in some cases that where the civil liability is determined by a civil court, the judgment of that court would be the best evidence of the civil rights of the parties, [26] and that save for very exceptional reasons, the decision of the civil court should be accepted as conclusive between the parties. [27] 

In the case of Seth Ramdayal Jat v. Laxmi Prasad, [28] the respondent secured a loan from the appellant by pledging jewellery. Subsequently, the respondent returned the loan, but the appellant continued to charge interest even after return. In a criminal proceeding the appellant admitted his guilt and the Trial Court imposed a fine on the appellant on the basis of his admission. The respondent filed a suit for the recovery of jewellery, and the Trial Court decreed the suit in favour of the respondent. The appellant preferred an appeal against the decree of the Trial Court and subsequently the First Appellate Court reversed the decree of Trial Court on the ground that the decree was passed on the basis of judgment in a criminal Court which is inadmissible in evidence. Thereafter, the respondent proceeded with a second appeal, and the High Court after framing the substantial question of law decided the case in favour of the respondent. The case then came forward to the Supreme Court as an appeal by the appellant against the order of High Court. The primary issue was whether the admission of guilt in criminal case would be admissible in civil suit. It was held that Section 43 [29] makes judgment in Criminal Court inadmissible for fixing civil liability and further Section 58 of the Indian Evidence Act [30] states that facts admitted need not be proved; therefore facts which were admitted in criminal proceeding would be admissible in civil case in respect of similar transaction. It was stated that any explanation in respect of the said admission could be decided by appreciating evidence, and in the instant case the appellant had previously admitted his guilt in the criminal proceeding and therefore, the admission would be admissible in civil suit. Referring to Section 43, [31] it was stated that in terms of the provision, the judgment in a criminal case shall be admissible provided it is a relevant fact in issue, and its admissibility otherwise is limited. It was held that a civil proceeding is also a criminal proceeding and may go on simultaneously. No statute in particular puts an embargo in relation thereto, and a decision in a criminal case is not binding on a civil court. However, although the judgment in a criminal case was not relevant in evidence for the purpose of proving his civil liability, his admission in the civil suit was held to be admissible.

The judgment in this case seems to vent out the opinion of Woodroffe Ali in his book on evidence [32] where he states, “To hold that when a party has been able to satisfy a civil court to the justice of his claim and has in result succeeded in obtaining a decree which is final and binding upon the parties, it would not be open to a criminal court to go behind the findings of the civil court, is to place the latter, without any valid reason, in a much higher position that what it actually occupies in the system of administration". The end result of this case is that a previous statement which formed the part of a different judicial proceeding was considered as a relevant fact an issue pertinent to the present case.

Conclusion

In the context of the above discussion, a succinct review is called for. Apart from the fact that no provisions particularly deal with the admissibility of criminal proceedings in civil proceedings and vice versa with the exception of Sections 40 to 44 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, current case law indicates that any explanation in respect of the an admission could be decided by appreciating evidence, and in cases where a party has previously admitted his guilt in a criminal proceeding, the admission would be admissible in civil suit.

With respect to the applicability and admissibility of civil judgments in criminal proceedings, the researcher came to the conclusion that the excellent set up of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 sees to proper standards and parameters to be followed concerning the admissibility of other judgments. Old cases pertaining to the admissibility of criminal proceedings in civil proceedings, however, are of the strict opinion that such admissibility cannot be held on account of various factors including the fact that “every case has to be decided upon its own facts as they exist between the parties to it and not by reference to the judgments in other cases". [33] 

The researcher had introduced the concept keeping in mind the standards of proof used in civil and criminal proceedings, and the a priori thesis was that a criminal proceeding must be admissible in a civil proceeding when the events form the part of the same transaction and the utmost priority is given to finding the truth rather than getting lost in a maze civil procedure. Such a view was held in cases such as Seth Ramdayal Jat v. Laxmi Prasad [34] , and is, according to the researcher, the correct method of admissibility. With respect to the admissibility of civil judgments in criminal proceedings, there exists no ambiguity due to the presence of statutory provisions in the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 that regulate the admissibility of other judgments but nevertheless make them admissible when they are clearly relevant.

Annotated Bibliography

Books:

Avtar Singh, Principles of the Law of Evidence (Allahabad: Central Law Publications, 2009).

Jaswant Singh et al., Law of Evidence (Madras: Madras Law Journal Office, 1996).

M.C. Sarkar et al., Sarkar’s Law of Evidence, (Nagpur: Wadhwa Publishers, 1998).

Peter Murphy, Murphy on Evidence, (London: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Professor Ian Dennis, The Law of Evidence, (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 2007).

Sir John Woodroffe, Law of Evidence (New Delhi: Butterworths, 2001).

Vepa Sarathi, Law of Evidence, (Lucknow: Eastern Book Publications, 2006).

Cases:

K .G. Premshanker v. Inspector of Police and Anr. (2002) 8 SCC 87.

This case dealt with the quashing of criminal proceedings on the ground of pendency of civil suit on the same cause of action. It was held that if the criminal case and the civil proceedings are for the same cause, judgment of the civil court would be relevant if conditions of any of the Sections 40 to 43 of the Evidence Act, 1872 are satisfied, but if it cannot be said that the same would be conclusive except as provided in Section 41.

Miller v. Minister of Pensions [1947] 2 All ER 372.

In this case an officer serving in the Western Desert reported sick and was found to be suffering from cancer of the gullet. He died within a month. The aetiology of cancer was unknown. There was evidence that for all practical purposes cancer is not looked on as contagious or infections, and that cancer of the gullet is unrelated to employment and environment. It was stated that cases where the aetiology, i.e., the scientific origin of the disease, is unknown or imperfectly known present great difficulty. “If nothing else appears except that the cause is unknown, the only proper conclusion is that the Minister cannot discharge the burden of proof because the unknown cause may be a cause incidental to war service". The tribunal dismissed the widow's claim to a pension on the ground that the whole of the probabilities, beyond reasonable doubt, were that war service played no part. It was held that the tribunal could reasonably come to that conclusion, and, therefore, the widow's appeal had to be dismissed.

Seth Ramdayal Jat v. Laxmi Prasad (2009) 11 SCC 545.

In this particular case the respondent had secured a loan from the appellant and the pledge was jewellery. The issue arose when the appellant continued to charge interest even after the respondent returned the loan. The appellant admitted his guilt in a criminal proceeding, however. Subsequently an order was passed by the High Court, out of which the current appeal arose to the Supreme Court as to whether the admission of guilt in criminal case would be admissible in civil suit. It was held that Section 43 of the Indian Evidence Act makes judgment in criminal Court inadmissible for fixing civil liability; however Section 58 of Act of 1872 also says that facts admitted need not be proved. It was therefore held in this case that facts which were admitted in criminal proceeding would be admissible in civil case in respect of similar transaction and any explanation in respect of said admission can be decided by appreciating evidence.

V.M. Shah v. State of Maharashtra and another (1995) 5 SCC 767.

This case dealt with a conviction under Section 630 of Companies Act, 1956. A company initiated proceedings under Section 630 for continued occupation of a flat. The appellant was convicted for an offence under Section 630, and the issue was whether the conviction under Section 630 sustainable. The facts in the form of a previous judgment revealed that the appellant came into possession of flat through independent tenancy rights from principal landlord and not through the company. The judgment was held as admissible and it was held that the appellant could not be convicted under Section 630.

Articles:

Andrew Hopkins, “On the Sociology of Criminal Law", Social Problems, Vol. 22, No. 5 (Jun., 1975).

This paper relates the revival of interest in the sociology of law, and in particular criminal law, to recent changes of perspective in the field of criminology. It considers the debate between conflict and consensus theorists over the nature of the criminal law and argues that efforts to settle the dispute in favour of one model or the other are somewhat misdirected. An attempt is made to reconcile the two viewpoints and to suggest how remaining points of disagreement can be used to stimulate more productive research.

Nicola Lacey, “In Search of the Responsible Subject: History, Philosophy and Social Sciences in Criminal Law Theory" The Modern Law Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 May, 2001.

This paper examines the way in which English criminal law's conception of responsibility has changed since the eighteenth century, and explores the relationship between changes in legal framework, changes in processes of criminalisation and punishment, and broader social, political and economic changes. It argues that the development of ideas of individual responsibility for crime are responses to problems of co-ordination and legitimation faced by systems of criminal law, and that these problems can be expected to change according to the environment in which the system operates, with important factors including the distribution of political interests and economic power; the prevailing cultural and intellectual environment; the organisation and status of relevant professional groups and the vigour of alternative means of social ordering. Substantively, the paper explores the hypothesis that criminal responsibility has shifted from a conception founded in ideas of character to a capacity-based conception over the relevant period. Methodologically, the aim is to historicise the structure as well as the content of criminal law within a socio-theoretic framework, constructing a dialogue between criminal law theory of a doctrinal and philosophical temper and socio-historical studies of criminal justice.