Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Examine private witnesses first: SC to trial courts

The trial courts across the country shall endeavour to complete the examination of private witnesses on the same day as far as possible, the Supreme Court has said while taking judicial note that cross-examination of such witnesses is adjourned without any reason at the “drop of a hat”.
The apex court said it is constrained to record its anguish on the deliberate attempt to derail the “quest for justice” as day in and day out, it is witnessing the sorry state of affairs in which private witnesses turn hostile for “obvious reasons”.
“Long adjournments are being given after the completion of the chief examination, which only helps the defense to win them over at times, with the passage of time,” a bench of Justices S K Kaul and M M Sundresh said. “Thus, we deem it appropriate to reiterate that the trial courts shall endeavor to complete the examination of the private witnesses both chief and cross on the same day as far as possible,” the bench said in its judgement.
The top court delivered the verdict on the appeals filed by four appellants challenging the Allahabad High Court verdict which had sentenced them to life in connection with a case lodged in 2004.
The bench said the apex court had already expressed its views on the need for a legislative remedy to curtail the menace of private witnesses turning hostile for obvious reasons.
“Notwithstanding the above-stated directions issued by this court …. we take judicial note of the factual scenario that the trial courts are adjourning the cross-examination of the private witnesses…..without any rhyme or reason, at the drop of a hat,” it said.
“To further curtail this menace, we would expect the trial courts to take up the examination of the private witnesses first, before proceeding with that of the official witnesses,” the bench said. The top court said that copy of its judgement be circulated to all the trial courts, to be facilitated through the respective high courts. The bench noted that the expression “hostile witness” does not find a place in the Indian Evidence Act and it is coined to mean testimony of a witness turning to depose in favour of the opposite party.
“We must bear it in mind that a witness may depose in favour of a party in whose favour it is meant to be giving through his chief examination, while later on change his view in favour of the opposite side,” it said.