Sunday, 19 January 2020

Supreme Court: Evidence of Hand-writing Expert must be Corroborated by either Direct or Circumstantial Evidence

 It is fairly well settled that before acting upon the opinion of the
hand-writing expert, prudence requires that the court must see that
such evidence is corroborated by other evidence either direct or
circumstantial evidence. In Murari Lal v. State of Madhya Pradesh
(1980) 1 SCC 704, the Supreme Court held as under:-
“4. …….True, it has occasionally been said on very high authority
that it would be hazardous to base a conviction solely on the
opinion of a handwriting expert. But, the hazard in accepting the
opinion of any expert, handwriting expert or any other kind of
expert, is not because experts, in general, are unreliable witnesses
— the quality of credibility or incredibility being one which an expert shares with all other witnesses — but because all human judgment
is fallible and an expert may go wrong because of some defect of
observation, some error of premises or honest mistake of
conclusion. The more developed and the more perfect a science,
the less the chance of an incorrect opinion and the converse if the
science is less developed and imperfect. The science of
identification of finger-prints has attained near perfection and the
risk of an incorrect opinion is practically non-existent. On the other
hand, the science of identification of handwriting is not nearly so
perfect and the risk is, therefore, higher. But that is a far cry from
doubting the opinion of a handwriting expert as an invariable rule
and insisting upon substantial corroboration in every case,
howsoever the opinion may be backed by the soundest of reasons.
It is hardly fair to an expert to view his opinion with an initial
suspicion and to treat him as an inferior sort of witness. His opinion
has to be tested by the acceptability of the reasons given by him.
An expert deposes and not decides. His duty “is to furnish the
Judge with the necessary scientific criteria for testing the accuracy
of his conclusion, so as to enable the Judge to form his own
independent judgment by the application of these criteria to the
facts proved in evidence (Vide Lord President Cooper in Davis v.
Edindurgh Magistrate, 1953 SC 34 quoted by Professor Cross in
his evidence).”
5. …….
6. Expert testimony is made relevant by Section 45 of the Evidence
Act and where the Court has to form an opinion upon a point as to
identity of handwriting, the opinion of a person “specially skilled” “in
questions as to identity of handwriting” is expressly made a relevant
fact……… So, corroboration may not invariably be insisted upon
before acting on the opinion of an handwriting expert and there
need be no initial suspicion. But, on the facts of a particular case, a
court may require corroboration of a varying degree. There can be
no hard and fast rule, but nothing will justify the rejection of the
opinion of an expert supported by unchallenged reasons on the
sole ground that it is not corroborated. The approach of a court
while dealing with the opinion of a handwriting expert should be to
proceed cautiously, probe the reasons for the opinion, consider all
other relevant evidence and decide finally to accept or reject it.”

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 87 OF 2020

PADUM KUMAR Vs STATE OF UTTAR PRADESH 

R. BANUMATHI, J.
Dated:January 14, 2020.


Leave granted.
2. This appeal has been preferred challenging the impugned
judgment dated 19.02.2018 passed by the High Court of Judicature
at Allahabad in Criminal Revision No.511 of 2006 whereby the High
Court dismissed the revision petition filed by the appellant
confirming his conviction under Sections 467 and 468 IPC and the
sentence of imprisonment imposed upon him.
3. Briefly stated case of the prosecution is as under:-
The appellant-Padum Kumar was then working as Postman in
Indira Nagar Post Office, Lucknow. On 09.04.1992, PW-3-Dr. M.L.

Varshney, Professor, Agriculture Institute, Naini, Allahabad had sent
a registered envelope No.0095 to the Complainant-Dr. K.B.
Varshney (PW-1) from the Sub-Post Office of the said Institute. The
said envelope contained four Indira Vikas Patra of value of each
Rs.5,000/- totalling Rs.20,000/-. The envelope did not reach PW-1-
Dr. K.B. Varshney; therefore, on 27.04.1992, PW-3-Dr. M.L.
Varshney made a complaint before the Post Master, Post Office,
Agriculture Institute, Naini, Allahabad. PW-1-Complainant-Dr. K.B.
Varshney also enquired from Indira Nagar Post Office. On
29.04.1992, PW-1 had also filed a complaint to the Senior
Superintendent, Department of Posts that the envelope Registry
No.0095 has not been received. On 14.05.1992, information was
received from Senior Superintendent, Post and Telegraph, Lucknow
that a person named “Mohan” has received the aforesaid registry on
13.04.1992. Then, PW-1 and his son Devesh Mohan-PW-2 went to
Indira Nagar Post Office and saw the signature where it has been
written as “D. Mohan”. Complainant’s son is also named Devesh
Mohan (PW-2). On being shown the signature, PW-2 denied that
the signature in question belongs to him. A case was registered in
Crime No.394/1992 under Sections 420, 467 and 468 IPC at P.S.
Ghazipur, Lucknow. The case was investigated. Later on, the
investigation of the case was entrusted to C.B. C.I.D.

4. The Investigating Officer has recorded the statement of
various witnesses. The Investigating Officer had sent the disputed
signature along with the specimen signatures of PW-2-Devesh
Mohan to the Forensic Science Laboratory, Lucknow. As per the
report given by the Forensic Science Laboratory, Lucknow, the
person who has made specimen signatures has also made the
disputed signature in the delivery slip-Ex.-P4. The disputed
signature “Q-1” along with the specimen signatures of PW-2 “S-1 to
S-6” were sent to private hand-writing expert M.Y. Khan-PW-5. In
his evidence, PW-5 has stated that on comparison of the disputed
signature “Q-1” in Ex.-P4-delivery slip with the specimen signatures
of PW-2 “S-1 to S-6”, he came to the conclusion that the disputed
signature is different from the specimen signatures and PW-5 had
issued his report-Ex.-P9. Yet another hand-writing expert Siya Ram
Gupta had also examined the disputed signature with reference to
the specimen signatures. Siya Ram Gupta had opined that the
disputed signature in the delivery slip has not been made by PW-2-
Devesh Mohan. By the time of trial, hand-writing expert Siya Ram
Gupta passed away and his son Ranjeet Kumar has been
examined as PW-8. As PW-8-Ranjeet Kumar was acquainted with
the hand-writing of his father-Siya Ram Gupta, the report of handwriting
expert Siya Ram Gupta has been marked through his son-

PW-8. The investigation revealed that the appellant had forged the
signature on the delivery slip-Ex.-P4. On completion of
investigation, charge sheet has been filed against the appellantaccused
under Sections 420, 467 and 468 IPC.
5. To prove the charges against the appellant, the prosecution
has examined PW-1-Dr. K.B. Varshney, PW-2-Devesh Mohan, PW-
3- Dr. M.L. Varshney, hand-writing expert-PW-5-M.Y. Khan, PW-8-
Ranjeet Kumar, son of another hand-writing expert-Siya Ram Gupta
and other witnesses. Upon consideration of the oral and
documentary evidence, the trial court noted that three hand-writing
experts are on record. According to one expert, the disputed
signature has been made by Devesh Mohan-PW-2. The trial court
also noted that the other two experts have mentioned in their
reports that the disputed signature “Q-1” in delivery slip do not
match with the specimen signatures “S-1 to S-6”. The trial court
held that the appellant being the Postman did the work of delivery of
registry and the delivery slip was kept with him therefore, the
conclusion is that the appellant made the signature of “D. Mohan” in
the delivery slip. The trial court held that the appellant frequently
used to visit the house of the complainant-PW-1 by taking registries
and letters and thus, he was well-acquainted with the signature of

PW-2-Devesh Mohan. Based upon the evidence of PWs 1 to 3 and
the reports of hand-writing experts, the trial court held that the
appellant had committed the offence of forgery and convicted him
under Sections 467 and 468 IPC and sentenced him to undergo
rigorous imprisonment of four years and three years respectively.
Both the sentences were directed to run concurrently.
6. Challenging the conviction, the appellant has filed an appeal
before the appellate court – Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate,
Lucknow. The appellate court dismissed the appeal by holding that
upon proper analysis of evidence adduced by the prosecution, the
trial court has rightly convicted the appellant under Sections 467
and 468 IPC.
7. Being aggrieved, the appellant filed Criminal Revision No.511
of 2006 before the High Court of Allahabad which came to be
dismissed by the impugned judgment. The High Court held that the
prosecution has adduced evidence proving that the signature of
“D. Mohan” in the delivery slip and the specimen signatures of
PW-2-Devesh Mohan differs. The High Court further held that the
appellant was the person who delivered the envelope and in such
circumstances, it is for the appellant to explain as to who signed the
disputed signature and in the absence of any such explanation from
5
the appellant, the presumption is to be raised against the appellant
that he is the only person having knowledge of the same. The
revision was accordingly dismissed and the conviction of the
appellant was affirmed.
8. Assailing the impugned judgment, Mr. Saurabh Mishra,
learned counsel for the appellant has contended that without
proving that the appellant has forged the signature in Ex.-P4-
delivery slip, the conviction of the appellant under Sections 467 and
468 IPC cannot be sustained. Learned counsel further submitted
that the courts below erred in not considering that the Government
hand-writing expert’s report was in favour of the appellant. It was
submitted that in the absence of examination of hand-writing expert
Siya Ram Gupta who gave the opinion, the report of Siya Ram
Gupta cannot be proved by examining his son-Ranjeet Kumar-PW-
and the courts below ought not to have placed reliance upon the
opinion of the hand-writing expert-PW-5-M.Y. Khan and another
hand-writing expert Siya Ram Gupta. It was contended that the High
Court erred in holding that it is for the appellant to prove as to who
signed in Ex.-P4-delivery slip and the High Court erred in raising the
presumption against the appellant and the conviction of the
appellant is not sustainable.

9. On the other hand, Mr. Adarsh Upadhyay, learned counsel for
the respondent-State has submitted that upon proper appreciation
of evidence adduced by the prosecution, the courts below rightly
convicted the appellant. It was submitted that the prosecution relies
upon not merely on the opinion of the hand-writing experts, but the
evidence of PW-2-Devesh Mohan, son of complainant-Dr. K.B.
Varshney (PW-1) who has denied having put his signature in Ex.-
P4-delivery slip and the prosecution has well established the guilt of
the appellant.
10. We have carefully considered the submissions and perused
the impugned judgment and other materials on record.
11. By adducing the evidence of Dr. M.L. Varshney (PW-3), the
prosecution has proved that on 09.04.1992, PW-3 had sent a
registered envelope No.0095 to PW-1-Dr. K.B. Varshney, Indira
Nagar, Lucknow. When PW-1 did not receive the said envelope, on
27.04.1992, PW-3 complained the same to the concerned Sub-Post
Office, Naini, Allahabad. PW-1-Dr. K.B. Varshney also filed a
complaint on 29.04.1992 to the Senior Superintendent, Department
of Posts, Lucknow. After investigation, it was learnt that on
14.05.1992, a person named Mohan has received the aforesaid
registry on 13.04.1992.
7
12. In his evidence, son of the complainant-PW-2-Devesh Kumar
has stated that the registry is said to have been received at his
house on 13.04.1992 and on the said date, he was not present at
home as he had gone for coaching at 10:00 am and had come back
to the house at about 04:00 pm. On being shown the delivery slip-
Ex.-P4, PW-2 clearly denied that it does not bear his signature. PW-
2 further stated that the appellant had brought the registry and his
mother had received them. It is to be pointed out that neither the
name of “Devesh Mohan” nor the name of “mother of PW-2” was
written on the distribution slip; but some other thing had been
written. The evidence of PW-2 denying his signature in Ex.-P4-
delivery slip is a valuable piece of evidence supporting the case of
the prosecution. The courts below rightly recorded the concurrent
findings that by the evidence of PW-2, the prosecution has clearly
established that PW-2-Devesh Mohan had not put the signature in
Ex.-P4-delivery slip.
13. The prosecution relies upon the reports of the hand-writing
experts only to corroborate the evidence of PW-2-Devesh Mohan.
Of course, hand-writing expert’s report by the Government Forensic
Science Laboratory, Lucknow has stated that the person who has
written the specimen signatures “S-1 to S-6” had written the

disputed signature “Q-1” in Ex.-P4-delivery slip. The report of the
Forensic Science Laboratory, Lucknow is in favour of the appellant.
But as rightly pointed out by the courts below that since the handwriting
expert from the Forensic Science Laboratory, Lucknow had
not been examined, the said report cannot be looked into. It is
pertinent to note that the appellant-accused had also not
summoned the hand-writing expert from the Government Forensic
Science Laboratory, Lucknow to substantiate his defence.
14. Be that as it may, the hand-writing expert-M.Y. Khan (PW-5) in
his report-Ex.-P9 has stated that the person who had written the
specimen signatures “S-1 to S-6” had not written the disputed
signature “Q-1” in Ex.-P4-delivery slip and that the same is different
from the signature of PW-2-Devesh Mohan. In his report, PW-5 had
also explained as to how the disputed signature does not match
with the specimen signatures of PW-2-Devesh Mohan. Likewise, in
his report, hand-writing expert Siya Ram Gupta had also opined that
the disputed signature in Ex.-P4-delivery slip has not been written
by PW-2-Devesh Mohan. By the time when the trial was taken up,
hand-writing expert Siya Ram Gupta passed away and his son-
Ranjeet Kumar (PW-8) who was acquainted with the hand-writing of
Siya Ram Gupta was examined to mark the report.
9
15. Learned counsel for the appellant has submitted that without
independent and reliable corroboration, the opinion of the handwriting
experts cannot be relied upon to base the conviction.
In support of his contention, learned counsel for the appellant has
placed reliance upon S. Gopal Reddy v. State of A.P. (1996) 4 SCC
596, wherein the Supreme Court held as under:-
“28. Thus, the evidence of PW 3 is not definite and cannot be said
to be of a clinching nature to connect the appellant with the
disputed letters. The evidence of an expert is a rather weak type of
evidence and the courts do not generally consider it as offering
‘conclusive’ proof and therefore safe to rely upon the same without
seeking independent and reliable corroboration. In Magan Bihari
Lal v. State of Punjab (1977) 2 SCC 210, while dealing with the
evidence of a handwriting expert, this Court opined:
“… We think it would be extremely hazardous to condemn the
appellant merely on the strength of opinion evidence of a
handwriting expert. It is now well settled that expert opinion
must always be received with great caution and perhaps none
so with more caution than the opinion of a handwriting expert.
There is a profusion of precedential authority which holds that
it is unsafe to base a conviction solely on expert opinion
without substantial corroboration. This rule has been
universally acted upon and it has almost become a rule of law.
It was held by this Court in Ram Chandra v. State of U.P. AIR
1957 SC 381 that it is unsafe to treat expert handwriting
opinion as sufficient basis for conviction, but it may be relied
upon when supported by other items of internal and external
evidence. This Court again pointed out in Ishwari Prasad
Misra v. Mohd. Isa AIR 1963 SC 1728 that expert evidence of
handwriting can never be conclusive because it is, after all,
opinion evidence, and this view was reiterated in Shashi
Kumar Banerjee v. Subodh Kumar Banerjee AIR 1964 SC 529
where it was pointed out by this Court that expert’s evidence
as to handwriting being opinion evidence can rarely, if ever,
take the place of substantive evidence and before acting on

such evidence, it would be desirable to consider whether it is
corroborated either by clear direct evidence or by
circumstantial evidence. This Court had again occasion to
consider the evidentiary value of expert opinion in regard to
handwriting in Fakhruddin v. State of M.P. AIR 1967 SC 1326
and it uttered a note of caution pointing out that it would be
risky to found a conviction solely on the evidence of a
handwriting expert and before acting upon such evidence, the
court must always try to see whether it is corroborated by
other evidence, direct or circumstantial.”
16. Of course, it is not safe to base the conviction solely on the
evidence of the hand-writing expert. As held by the Supreme Court
in Magan Bihari Lal v. State of Punjab (1977) 2 SCC 210 that
“expert opinion must always be received with great caution……..it is
unsafe to base a conviction solely on expert opinion without
substantial corroboration. This rule has been universally acted upon
and it has almost become a rule of law.”
17. It is fairly well settled that before acting upon the opinion of the
hand-writing expert, prudence requires that the court must see that
such evidence is corroborated by other evidence either direct or
circumstantial evidence. In Murari Lal v. State of Madhya Pradesh
(1980) 1 SCC 704, the Supreme Court held as under:-
“4. …….True, it has occasionally been said on very high authority
that it would be hazardous to base a conviction solely on the
opinion of a handwriting expert. But, the hazard in accepting the
opinion of any expert, handwriting expert or any other kind of
expert, is not because experts, in general, are unreliable witnesses
— the quality of credibility or incredibility being one which an expert shares with all other witnesses — but because all human judgment
is fallible and an expert may go wrong because of some defect of
observation, some error of premises or honest mistake of
conclusion. The more developed and the more perfect a science,
the less the chance of an incorrect opinion and the converse if the
science is less developed and imperfect. The science of
identification of finger-prints has attained near perfection and the
risk of an incorrect opinion is practically non-existent. On the other
hand, the science of identification of handwriting is not nearly so
perfect and the risk is, therefore, higher. But that is a far cry from
doubting the opinion of a handwriting expert as an invariable rule
and insisting upon substantial corroboration in every case,
howsoever the opinion may be backed by the soundest of reasons.
It is hardly fair to an expert to view his opinion with an initial
suspicion and to treat him as an inferior sort of witness. His opinion
has to be tested by the acceptability of the reasons given by him.
An expert deposes and not decides. His duty “is to furnish the
Judge with the necessary scientific criteria for testing the accuracy
of his conclusion, so as to enable the Judge to form his own
independent judgment by the application of these criteria to the
facts proved in evidence (Vide Lord President Cooper in Davis v.
Edindurgh Magistrate, 1953 SC 34 quoted by Professor Cross in
his evidence).”
5. …….
6. Expert testimony is made relevant by Section 45 of the Evidence
Act and where the Court has to form an opinion upon a point as to
identity of handwriting, the opinion of a person “specially skilled” “in
questions as to identity of handwriting” is expressly made a relevant
fact……… So, corroboration may not invariably be insisted upon
before acting on the opinion of an handwriting expert and there
need be no initial suspicion. But, on the facts of a particular case, a
court may require corroboration of a varying degree. There can be
no hard and fast rule, but nothing will justify the rejection of the
opinion of an expert supported by unchallenged reasons on the
sole ground that it is not corroborated. The approach of a court
while dealing with the opinion of a handwriting expert should be to
proceed cautiously, probe the reasons for the opinion, consider all
other relevant evidence and decide finally to accept or reject it.”

18. As pointed out earlier, the hand-writing experts - M.Y. Khan
(PW-5) and Siya Ram Gupta have opined that the disputed
signature-“Q-1” in the delivery slip-Ex.-P4 does not match with the
specimen signatures-“S-1 to S-6”. Hand-writing experts have also
opined that the one who wrote the specimen signatures had not
written the disputed signature “Q-1” in Ex.-P4. As pointed out by the
courts below, the evidence of hand-writing expert is the evidence
relied upon by the prosecution to corroborate the evidence of PW-2-
Devesh Mohan who has denied his signature in Ex.-P4. Learned
counsel for the appellant is not right in contending that the courts
below have based the conviction solely upon the opinion of the
hand-writing experts. The evidence of hand-writing experts is only a
corroborative piece of evidence to corroborate the evidence of PW-
2-Devesh Mohan.
19. In the light of the evidence of PWs 1 to 3 and other evidence,
the High Court rightly found that the appellant who delivered the
registered envelope at the place of the complainant-PW-1 is bound
to explain as to who made the alleged signature in Ex.-P4-delivery
slip. In the absence of any explanation by the appellant-accused, as
held by the High Court, a presumption is to be raised against the
appellant who delivered the envelope as he is the only person
having knowledge of the same. From the evidence of PW-3-Dr. M.L.
Varshney, the prosecution has proved that the envelope contained
valuable security-four Indira Vikas Patra of value of each Rs.5,000/-
totalling Rs.20,000/-. Upon appreciation of evidence adduced by
the prosecution, the courts below rightly recorded the concurrent
findings that the appellant has forged the signature of PW-2-Devesh
Mohan and the conviction of the appellant under Sections 467 and
468 IPC is based upon the evidence and the conviction does not
suffer from any infirmity warranting interference.
20. For the conviction under Section 467 IPC, the appellant has
been sentenced to undergo imprisonment for four years and for the
conviction under Section 468 IPC, the appellant has been
sentenced to undergo imprisonment for three years along with fine
of Rs.500/-. The occurrence was of the year 1992. As seen from the
custody certificate, the appellant has been in custody from
04.07.2018 i.e. for a period of more than eighteen months.
Considering that the occurrence was of the year 1992 and the facts
and circumstances of the case, the sentence of imprisonment
imposed upon the appellant is reduced to the period already
undergone.

21. In the result, the conviction of the appellant-accused under
Sections 467 and 468 IPC is confirmed and the sentence of
imprisonment imposed on him is reduced to the period already
undergone. The impugned judgment dated 19.02.2018 passed by
the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad in Criminal Revision
No.511 of 2006 is accordingly modified and the appeal is partly
allowed. The appellant-accused is ordered to be released forthwith
unless his presence is required in any other case.
………………………..J.
[R. BANUMATHI]
………………………..J.
[A.S. BOPANNA]
New Delhi;
January 14, 2020.

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