November 25, 2006Public Policy

Dying declarations must be in the mother tongue

Codification based on assumptions is a bad idea

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Another division bench, this time of the Calcutta High Court, has issued a ruling that calls for attention.

A dying declaration recorded in a language other than a person’s mother tongue was not acceptable as evidence in a court of law, the Calcutta high court has ordered.

It said that people did not speak in any language other than their mother tongue when they are dying. [Rediff]The report does not say whether the court offered grounds for its belief that dying people speak only in their mother tongues. But it certainly seems to defy common sense. For it is reasonable to expect that a dying person will speak in a language listeners understand, rather than the mother tongue. In any case, circumstances play a major role in the language used, and therefore, weigh against blanket rules based on generalizations.

And what about people who don’t speak the mother tongue as the primary language? Their dying declarations will no longer be acceptable as evidence in court. Finally, we have not even begun to consider that such a ruling could be a final act of deprivation of individual freedoms by the state—in this case the freedom to speak in any language at any time, even at the point of death.

These are not trivial matters—a conviction for murder was overturned on this principle. The court may well have decided on the particular case according to its merits. It is altogether a different thing for the higher judiciary to codify the format for dying declarations.

The Cabinet is considering a bill to make judges more accountable and address charges of misconduct. That’s fine as it goes. But what about honest and upright judges whose decisions lack proper judgement?

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