# “A forest/wildlife officer is not a police officer and therefore confessional statement of the accused recorded before a lawful forest/wildlife authority is admissible in the court of law during the trial of wildlife offences under Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.” #
Wildlife Law enforcement officials in India have been claiming as above with regard to admissibility of confessional statement of the accused of a crime taking resort to Section 25 and Section 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which read as follows:
Section 25: “No confession made to a police officer shall be proved as against a person accused of any offence.”
Section 26: “No confession made by any person whilst he is in the custody of a police officer, unless it be made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate, shall be proved as against such person.”
Because of such interpretation of Section 25 & Section 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 by forest/wildlife officials in India, there seems to have much reliance on admissibility of confessional statement of the wildlife offender recorded before an officer not below the rank of Assistant Conservator of Forest under Section 50(8) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act during investigation and trial of wildlife crime cases. Section 50(9) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act reads as follows:
“Any evidence recorded under clause (d) of sub-section (8) shall be admissible in any subsequent trial before a Magistrate provided that it has been taken in the presence of the accused person.”
This approach has also resulted in not carrying out scientific investigations linking the accused with the crime beyond any reasonable doubt using wildlife forensics, digital forensics, OSINT Tools and other scientific techniques of investigation. This scenario has led to acquittal of alleged wildlife offenders by the courts of law in many cases. Relying heavily on the confessional statements without corroborating them with other documentary/independent evidences is the main reason for dismal rate of conviction in wildlife crime cases in India.
Constitutional Courts in India have made it clear in many judgments that confessional statements not corroborated with independent evidences will not be admissible during the trial. For example, in February 2023 the Madras High Court acquitted Mr. Thambu alias Thambattan who was earlier convicted by the Judicial Magistrate and whose conviction was also confirmed by the Sessions Court for possession of ivories on the basis of confessional statement of the accused. The hon’ble High Court in its judgment said that the accused could not be convicted solely on the basis of the alleged confession statement. Except the confession statement, no other independent material or any evidence was available to convict the accused in this case.
Confessional statements also violate the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 20(3) of Indian Constitution which reads as follows:
“No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”.
There has been a pattern of alleged wildlife accused retracting their confessional statements subsequently alleging that those statements were recorded under coercion, threat or duress and those statements were not their voluntary statements. Such retractions render those statements without any evidential value which lead to prosecution losing the case in the court of law. Failure of the prosecution in securing conviction of the wildlife offenders further aggravate the wildlife crime scenario as it fails to create any deterrence.
It can be concluded that relying merely on the confessional statement has been detrimental to wildlife law enforcement in India. The sooner wildlife law enforcement officials realize it and start doing scientific investigation, the better it would be for prosecution in securing conviction in wildlife crime cases.