1. The appellant was convicted by the Sessions Judge of Vizagapatam of offences punishable under Sections 467, 471, 409 and 477-A of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment under each count, the sentences to run concurrently.
2. The chief question in this appeal--as in the trial--is whether a confessional statement made by the accused on oath before the Assistant Registrar is admissible evidence against him. It is argued on a point of law that no statement made on oath can be a voluntary statement that would be admissible under Section 24 of the Evidence Act. The learned advocate for the appellant relies on Emperor v. Dawood Kuzhi I.L.R. (1925) Bom. 56, the decision of a single Judge. The question there was whether a statement made on oath by an accused person examined by a coroner was admissible against him in the Sessions trial. The learned Judge held that it was not. His judgment is concerned primarily with the questions whether the statement of the accused was protected by virtue of Section 132 of the Evidence Act and whether the coroner did not act in contravention of Section 162 of the Civil Procedure Code in recording a statement on oath from the accused or, rather, having recorded a statement on oath in ignorance of the fact that the person giving the statement would he an accused, he acted illegally in putting that statement before the coroner's jury. He decided both these questions in favour of the accused; and then, in the last sentence or two of his judgment he says:
The statement before the coroner in this case cannot be admitted as a consession as it id a statement on oath. A confession must be voluntary; and a person who is summoned to give evidence and who is put on oath, and who answers questions or makes a statement under the compulsion of his oath cannot be said to have made a voluntary statement.
It may be said that this learned Judge, during the course of his judgment, expressed his disagreement with the decisions of two Full Benches of his own Court. Section 24 of the Evidence Act says nothing about voluntary statements, It makes irrelevant a confession if it appears to the Court that that confession was 'caused by any inducement, threat, or promise ... proceeding from a person in authority ...sufficient ... to give the accused person grounds which would appear to him. reasonable for supposing that by making it he would ...evil any evil of a temporal nature ...' So that the statement with which we are concerned can only be inadmissible on the ground that it was caused by a threat. It does not seem to me reasonable to argue that the administering of an oath is tantamount to a threat to the person under oath that if he does not speak the truth, he will be punished for it. If that were the case, there would be no reason for the enactment of the proviso of Section 132 of the Evidence Act; for if no evidence on oath by a witness could amount to a voluntary confession, it never could be used against him. On at least two occasions a somewhat similar question has been considered by this Court. A Full Bench of five Judges held in The Queen v. Gopaldas (1881) 3 Mad. 271, that a statement given on oath in an affidavit filed in a civil suit would be used against a person making the statement. That case was followed in Peddabba Reddi v. Varada Beddi (1928) 56 M.L.J. 570 : I.L.R. 52 Mad. 432, in which a statement given by a person examined as a witness was subsequently used against him on a charge of defamation.
3. A statement made on oath may be said in certain cases to be made as the result of the holding out of a threat; but that is always a question of fact. It is contended that in this case there was such an inducement; and the learned Counsel for the appellant relies on a statement made by P.W. 7 a retired District Medical Officer and the Chairman of the Co-operative Bank, six of whose cheques the accused is said to have forged. It appears from the cross-examination that he replied in the affirmative to this question put by the counsel for the accused: 'As soon as P. W. 3 and yourself went to the bank on 23rd April, 1941, did you not ask the accused whether he realized the consequences of the fraud that he had committed ?'' Such a question was not however put to P.W. 3, the Deputy Registrar of Co-operative Societies who conducted the inquiries and questioned the accused. Both P.W. 3-and P.W. 7, say in examination in chief that when they entered the premises of the bank, P.W. 3 first checked the cash balance with reference to the cash book and found it to be correct. P.W. 3 then asked the accused about the forged cheques and showed those cheques to him; whereupon the accused admitted that he had forged those cheques and drawn money on them. It seems to me that if it is true that such a question was put to the accused, it must have been put to him after ho had been shown these cheques and the accused had answered that he had forged them. It seems most unlikely that P.Ws. 3 and 7 walked straight into the bank and without asking the accused any preliminary questions, said to him., 'Do you realize the consequences of the fraud you have committed?'
4. Apart from the written statement given on oath, an earlier statement was made by the accused, as just mentioned, in answer to an informal question of P.W. 3 as to what he had to say with regard to the forged cheques which P.W. 3 showed to him. I do not believe that the statement made by the accused in response to that question was brought about by any implied threat that he would be punished if he did not speak the truth.
5. Even apart from the confessional -statements, I consider there is sufficient evidence to bring home this case to the accused. He was in entire charge; of the books of 'the bank, which was a very small one, the only other person in the office being an attender who did menial duties; so that all the cheques passed, through, the hands of the accused, and he made all the relevant entries in connection with these cheques in the accounts. The forged cheques bore numbers that made it clear that the cheques did not come from the cheque book that was standing in the name of the person whose signature the cheques bore; and so if some other person had forged these cheques, as the accused suggests, the accused would have seen when he came to enter the particulars of the cheque in the ledger page of the person on whose account the cheques were being drawn, that the cheque bore a number which was not in the book standing in the name of that, person. That would have led him to examine the signature on the cheque more closely; and if he had done so and compared the signature with the standard signature in the bank's books, there could have been no doubt that the signatures on the cheques were forgeries. Moreover that forged signatures were not passed as genuine by mere negligence is indicated by the fact that the accused entered at the top of the ledger page the numbers of the cheque book containing the forged cheques, obviously for the purpose of concealing the fact that the forged cheques were drawn from a cheque book that had not been issued to the person whose signature had been forged. P.Ws. 3 and 7 have proved that the cheque book which was used for making the forged cheques was kept by the accused in a locked drawer,, which cheque book he produced upon being questioned. Finally, when P.W. 2 questioned the accused about the fraud on 24th March, 1941, which was sometime before the incident spoken to by P.Ws. 3 and 7, the accused did not give any reply or put forward any defence to the accusation that he had been guilty of forging cheques and misappropriating the amounts that he had realized on them.
6. I have no doubt that the accused was properly convicted. The sentence of two years rigorous imprisonment is a light punishment for such serious offences.
7. The appeal is dismissed.