Section 15 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Illustrations:

(a) A is accused of burning down his house in order to obtain money for which it is insured.

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The facts that A lived in several houses successively, each of which he insured, in each of which a fire occurred, and after each of which fires A received payment from a different insurance office, are relevant, as tending to show that the fires were not accidental.

(b) A is employed to receive money from the debtors of B.

It is A’s duty to make entries in a book showing the amounts received by him. He makes an entry showing that on a particular occasion he received less than he really did receive.

The question is, whether this false entry was accidental or intentional.

The facts that other entries made by A in the same book are false, and that the false entry is in each case in favour of A, are relevant.

(c) A is accused of fraudulently delivering to  a counterfeit rupee.

The question is, whether the delivery of the rupee was accidental.

The facts that, soon before or soon after the delivery to B,A delivered counterfeit rupees to C, D and E are relevant, as showing that the delivery to B, was not accidental.

Comments:

General Principle:

Section 15 lays down the rules of admissibility of evidence in cases, where the question is whether a particular act was accidental or done with particular intention or knowledge. The section raises two questions viz.,

(i) Whether the act with which a person is charged, is accidental or intentional, and (ii) whether the act was done with a particular knowledge or intention. It is important to note that in cases showing the existence of any state of mind which proves and disapproves of intention for doing an act being necessary are regulated by the Section 14 of the Act. Section 14 is a general section dealing with all cases in which state of mind is involved. Section 15, on the other hand, provides specifically for allowing evidence of similar occurrences. It is not an exception but an application of general rule laid down in Section 14. It picks out only those cases where the question is whether a particular act is accidental or intentional. In order to prove intention the section is to apply to the act of similar nature, because Section 15 is particular application of the general rule laid down in the Section 14. An act is said to be similar to another when it is similar to a fact in issue only.

For example, if a person is prosecuted for theft, a similar act had to be committed by him on other occasion. Since the general principle laid down in Section 14 is to exclude the evidence of similar facts, this principle devised by the Section 15 will apply only when there is a striking similarity between the fact on which the case is based and the fact of which evidence is offered. The two facts possess a common characteristic.

Section 15 has also laid down another principle that “all the acts should form parts of a series of similar occasion,” Under the section the similar occurrences must be many. One single instance cannot constitute a series of similar occurrence and it is not admissible. Where the question was whether the accused had forged signature upon a bill of exchange, the fact that he had forged signatures upon other bills were hold to be inadmissible. A solitary act is not relevant.

Essence of the section:

It is necessary that all acts should form part of a series of similar occurrence. The reason is that if the act was not accidental, it must have been done intentionally or with knowledge.

The accused Panchu Das introduced himself to a rich prostitute as a Maharaja and another man as his darwan (doorkeeper). Both of them regularly visited the house of the prostitute and suddenly they disappeared. The woman was found dead in her room and her valuables had gone. No trace of the man could be found and police closed the file. After two years the two men were arrested in another city when they were playing similar trick with another rich prostitute. It was held by a majority that evidence of murder and robbery of the first woman was not relevant under any of the provisions of the Act. Referring to Section 15 it was also held that they were likely persons who had committed the crime because their modus operandi was similar and “there was no room for any doubt that the acts with which the accused were charged were identical.” Similarly, the same principle was followed in Noor Mohammed v The King. In this case the accused was tried for the murder of a woman named Ayesha by poisoning her. Evidence was given to show that the accused had previously murdered another woman by similar trick.

The evidence were held inadmissible as there was no direct evidence. If the accused was proved to have administered poison to Ayesha in circumstances consistence with accident, the proof that he had previously administered poison to any other in similar circumstances might well have been admissible. It has been regarded that “the relevancy of similar fact not as a rule of law but of practice.

Section 15 applies to such type of act which was only particular in nature and the modus operandi was also the same. Secondly, the similar act formed parts of a series of occurrence and the act was done with the state of mind (intention, knowledge etc.). It is not accident but intentional. The words of the section make if quite clear that it is not necessary that all acts should form parts of one transaction. But it is similar accusenses.

“The question under this section will always be for the discretion of the judge, to determine whether there is sufficient and reasonable connection between the factum probans (fact to be proved) offered and the factum probandum (evidentiary fact) or whether they are too remote from each other for the factum probans to be received. If there is no common link they cannot form a series, and this is the gist of the section.”

Cases on Similar Nature:

Arson:

In a case the accused was tried for arson with intent to defraud an insurance company. The evidence that the accused had made claim on two other insurance companies in respect of fires which had occurred in two other houses and which he had occupied previously and in succession was admitted to show that the fire which was the subject of trial was result of design and not accident.

Abortion:

The accused was charged with using an instrument for procuring abortion. Evidence that the accused did the same thing to cause abortion, was held admissible.

Breach of Trust:

On charge of misappropriation of money under section 408, 1.P.C. where the defense has inability to credit an account of pressure of work, another subsequent instance of omission to enter a payment was held inadmissible.

Fraud:

On charge of fraudulent evasion of purchase tax containing six accounts, evidence of similar transaction in which the accused took part, although it was not the subject of charge was admissible.

Murder:

Where a woman was charged with murder of her child by poison, and where the defense was that the death was the result of accident, evidence to prove that two other children of hers and lodger in her house had died previously to the present charge from the same poison, was held admissible.