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September 9, 2020 at 9:15 am #623Manimozhi Balakrishnan
QUES: What is the ambit of the word ‘estoppel’ under Sec 31 of the Indian Evidence Act? What does the section seek to include?
Section 31 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 reads as follows: “admissions are not conclusive proof but may operate as estoppel”. Firstly, understanding of this section requires some basic knowledge about ‘admissions’, ‘conclusive proof’, and ‘estoppel’. So, Admission- as given under section 17 of the Indian Evidence Act means all statements, given by any persons, either orally or in written which has the capability of developing inference as to the facts-in-issue or relevant facts. The usage of ‘any persons’ needs further clarification and that can be extorted from section 18 of the Indian Evidence Act, which says persons includes parties of the proceedings, agents of parties (whom the court regards as authorized), party of representative character (authorized), any person with interest in the subject-matter of the case, and person from whom interest derived. Next, the concept of Conclusive Proof in evidence law. Normally in a civil/criminal court practice, there are three stages involved in admitting a fact as proof. In the first stage, all facts are considered as ‘not proved’ and then as ‘proved’ and finally as ‘disproved’. So, in case of facts that are statutorily proven and when that is claimed by either party, court is obligated to stop the process in the second stage itself. To be precise, when facts of such nature are proved before courts, the opposite party gets no opportunity to rebut or disprove it. Thus, the inference drawn out of these two definitions is that “admission by one party to a suit can be disproved by the other”.
Then comes the chief concern as to the usage of the word – estoppel. General understanding of estoppel is that it is the rule that prohibits a person from making contradictions as to his previous actions and statements. But, when it comes to Evidence law, estoppel, having the above-said definition as a base, got shaped in an exclusive way (for reference section 115 of IEA). Yet our point of discussion does not require interpretation of definition provision on estoppel. Therefore Section 31 of the Indian Evidence Act has used the term estoppel generally, yet not loosely.
The word ‘estoppel’ is not loosely used here because it insisted on the need for further explanation when we say admissions are substantive proof of evidence and are not conclusive proof as well. There comes the question can statements given under section 31, be withdrawn by the same person who gave such admission. Answer to this question is inbuilt in the phrase “may operate as estoppel”. Insertion of the word ‘may’ make the estoppel condition non-
stringent, wherefore not all admissions or in other words not under all circumstances admissions are irreplaceable. Thus, one who gives admission can withdraw or claim it to have been wrongly made before the person to whom it was made starts believing and thereby acts upon it. And it is also upon the court to admit the same, partly or wholly. Since admissions are substantive evidences, do not make itself admissible. Besides, it is to be understood that usage of ‘may’ does not encourage dishonest and false admissions for which stricter interpretation and sometimes harmonious constructions are required depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case.
1. Indian Evidence Act 1872 § 31, §17, § 18, § 115.
2. VEPA P. SARATHI, LAW OF EVIDENCE 120 (7th ed. 2017)
3. Rengasami Reddiar vs M K Mummachi Reddiar (2002) 1 MLJ 760
4. Ambati Durgamma and ors. vs Pericherla Jagapathiraju 2005 (1) ALD 607
5. D. Narasimha Rao v. Y. Peda Venkaiah 1998 (2) ALT 513
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