The Cr.P.C. gives the accused an absolute ‘right to silence’. This essential safeguard in criminal procedure originates from Article 20(3) of the Constitution of India: as a right against self-incrimination or ‘testimonial compulsion’. It is imperative to note that the burden of proving the guilt of the accused lies on the prosecution.
313(1)(b) mandates the court to question the accused “generally” in such a manner so as to enable him to explain all relevant evidence against him. Here, the accused can either furnish an explanation or refuse to answer such questions under 313(3). The silence of the accused means his refusal to answer or a bare denial to the questions put to him without any explanation.
Time and again, the Apex court has held that while the accused has the ‘right to silence’, he must also explain the incriminating evidence against him else adverse inference can be drawn.
Here are some of the relevant case laws :
- Phula Singh v. State of Himachal Pradesh
The appellant, charged with bribery under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, refused to provide any explanation as to the circumstances against him and evaded the questions with bare denials. While appreciating the right to silence, in view of the 313 statement of the accused, the court held that: “The accused has a duty to furnish an explanation regarding any incriminating material that has been produced against him. If the accused has been given the freedom to remain silent or even remain in complete denial However, in such an event, the court would be entitled to draw an inference, including such adverse inference against the accused as may be permissible in accordance with law.”
ADVERSE INFERENCE IS NOT SAME AS THAT OF THE GUILT OF THE ACCUSED
- State of Maharashtra v. Ashok Chotelal Shukla
The court held that even though the respondent failed to explain incriminating circumstances against him, the other circumstances do not coherently lead to the conclusion that accused the death of his wife.
The court’s decision reflects that an adverse inference is not the same as the guilt of the accused. Neither does one flow from the other necessarily.
Finally, the ‘right to silence’ is not violated as the accused is not compelled, and can refuse to answer. If adverse inference was equal to deducing his guilt, the accused would’ve been forced to answer but silence only becomes a factor in the larger mitigating circumstances against him. As noted earlier, adverse inference from silence cannot be made the sole basis for the conviction of the accused. However, heavy reliance is placed on the prosecution’s evidence against the accused. Now, if the accused instead of rebutting the evidence against him remains silent and add to the case of the prosecution, an adverse can be drawn. And even then, the silence of the accused is not considered as the sole factor in determining his guilt, only a contributing one.