Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Written By: Varunendra Pandey
Circumstantial evidence is often presented in the criminal courts to establish the guilt of the accused as fundamental evidence or Eye witness for the crime committed may or may not be available. According to Bentham witnesses are the “eyes and ears” of justice. The circumstantial evidence is a clear portrayal of what would have exactly happened. Testimonies cannot always be trusted as there is space for hostility caused due to fear also witnesses are often lured by the adverse party. Thus, the facts narrated by the witnesses lose their credibility, hence owing to such situations circumstantial evidence is helpful in proving the credible facts.
Evidence in India is classified into two broad headers, Direct evidence, and Indirect Circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence is that which conclusively prove the asserted fact by the party asserting it and the circumstantial pieces of evidence are those which are relevant facts to the fact in issue, hence the existence of one fact proves the other . Circumstantial evidence is like a chain of events, connect one dot to another in a pattern and the fact is proved. Convictions solely on basis of circumstances are not encouraged, for conviction solely upon indirect evidence there shall be an unbreakable chain between the crime and the criminal.
An example of circumstantial evidence is when the police officer found stolen goods in the house of the suspect. Although this establishes the fact that the suspect has stolen good but does not establish the necessary guilt that the suspect must have stolen the goods. It might have happened that someone else placed the stolen goods on the suspect’s premises.
Historical Overview of Circumstantial Evidence
Historically Circumstantial evidence dates its existence back to the Roman system of law where the role of indirect evidence was a bit distinct in nature. The circumstantial evidence back then placed a significant role in Furthering the Investigation of the crime committed. An apt analogy would be, where a census shows that if several members of the same surname live in the same neighbourhood, the affiliation and the relationships among them can be made out with the help of the genders and the age of the persons.
Analysis of The Term ‘Evidence’
The term evidence means the instrument that establishes the fact in issue. It is like raw material that the adjudicator uses to establish the truth. Evidence is a fact-finding machine, one true source that establishes the most probable fact on the commission of a crime and bringing forth the truth.
The literal sense of the word means, to be evident that is to be plain, apparent, or notorious the tendency of it is the find the truth behind the fact in issue and hold the liable to dispose of their share of the burden of proof.
Analysis of Circumstantial Evidence
The position of circumstantial evidence is far more different than actually depicted in television Courtroom dramas. The mass perception posed by such representations is that the evidence is some logical Reasoning deduction whereas deduction is logical reasoning based on principles for a specific proposition.
The circumstantial evidence is those which when examined in isolation may be like any other fact but when studied in relevancy to the fact in issue proves or disproves the facts in question.
An example of such evidence is, the behaviour of a person after the crime is committed. Suppose a theft has been reported and soon after the crime the prime suspect is seen on the shopping spree buying expensive items, it is very much probable that the suspect is the one who committed the crime. The popular notion that the accused cannot be convicted solely on basis of the circumstantial evidence is not true though it is not encouraged most of the criminal cases lack direct evidence due to criminal nature of it and the convictions are often with the help of indirect evidence as far as the link between the crime and the criminal is not remote.
In the case of Holland vs The United States, the Supreme court of the United States held, indirect evidence is no different from direct evidence so the admissibility of both shall operate parallelly. The position of the admissibility of Circumstantial has been discussed fairly in the cases of Priyadarshini Matoo and Jessica Lal.
Essentials of Circumstantial Evidence
Evidence has a significant role to play in serving justice to one who seeks it and a person should take completely evaluate the evidence in regard to its admissibility, which is to be produced in the court of law. The conviction solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence is possible if the following essentials are fulfilled;
o The circumstance from which the guilt is proved should be proved.
o The facts should be in accordance with the hypothesis of the guilt of the accused.
o The circumstances of establishing guilt should be conclusive in nature.
o The circumstance that is stressed upon shall exclude any other probable hypothesis except the establishing the guilt.
o The evidence should prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.
Application of Circumstantial evidence
The Jessica Lal Murder Case that triggered the entire nation is a glaring example of Circumstantial evidence as the sole instrument for conviction. The case also portrays the apathy of witness hostility that has been hindering justice for a long time. Jessica Lal a bartender who refused to serve the alcohol to the accused because of the closure of the bar was shot dead. The accused Manu Sharma was on run but later surrendered to Chandigarh police. The accused confessed his crime but later the confession was retracted and the witnesses turned hostile owing to the developments in the case the trial court acquitted him. The nation felt outraged and around 200,000 applications were received by then President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for enhanced investigation in the crime. What looked like an open and shut case, became nothing but baseless allegations without any material evidence. Delhi High court then decided to investigate the circumstantial consideration in the case. The court recorded witness that asserted that Manu Sharma was present that day in the bar and the ballistic reports of the bullets fired from the respective gun indicated the Involvement of Manu Sharma in the crime. The conviction of Manu Sharma was the revolution in the Indian Criminal Justice System.
Circumstantial evidence is in no way inferior to direct evidence. They are efficient to establish a fact that proves or disproves the fact in issue. The corroboration required by them can be satisfied by the conduct of the accused post or prior to the crime committed. The court needs to examine both the evidence, direct and indirect critically, and find the missing chain of events if, the court is unable to find the circumstances leading to the fact are conclusive.
 Indian Evidence Act, 1872  348 U.S. 121 (1954)  State of UP vs Ravindra Prakash Mittal, AIR 1992 SC 2045  Siddharth Vasishta alias Manu Sharma vs NCT of Delhi, 2010 (69) ACC 833 (SC)  Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, Indian Evidence Act (21st Edition)