Supreme Court on Evidence of a Hostile Witness

“81. It is settled legal proposition that:

“6. … the evidence of a prosecution witness cannot be rejected in toto merely because the prosecution chose to treat him as hostile and cross-examined him. The evidence of such witnesses cannot be treated as effaced or washed off the record altogether but the same can be accepted to the extent their version is found to be dependable on a careful scrutiny thereof.”

(Vide Bhagwan Singh v. State of Haryana, (1976) 1 SCC 389, Rabindra Kumar Dey v. State of Orissa, (1976) 4 SCC 233, Syad Akbar v. State of Karnataka, (1980) 1 SCC 30 and Khujji v. State of M.P., (1991) 3 SCC 627, SCC p. 635, para 6.)

82. In State of U.P. v. Ramesh Prasad Misra [(1996) 10 SCC 360: 1996 SCC (Cri) 1278] this Court held that (at SCC p. 363, para 7) evidence of a hostile witness would not be totally rejected if spoken in favour of the prosecution or the accused but required to be subjected to close scrutiny and that portion of the evidence which is consistent with the case of the prosecution or defence can be relied upon. A similar view has been reiterated by this Court in Balu Sonba Shinde v. State of Maharashtra [(2002) 7 SCC 543: 2003 SCC (Cri) 112], Gagan Kanojia v. State of Punjab [(2006) 13 SCC 516: (2008) 1 SCC (Cri) 109], Radha Mohan Singh v. State of U.P. [(2006) 2 SCC 450: (2006) 1 SCC (Cri) 661], Sarvesh Narain Shukla v. Daroga Singh [(2007) 13 SCC 360: (2009) 1 SCC (Cri) 188] and Subbu Singh v. State [(2009) 6 SCC 462: (2009) 2 SCC (Cri) 1106].

83. Thus, the law can be summarised to the effect that the evidence of a hostile witness cannot be discarded as a whole, and relevant parts thereof which are admissible in law, can be used by the prosecution or the defence.

84. In the instant case, some of the material witnesses i.e. B. Kamal (PW 86) and R. Maruthu (PW 51) turned hostile. Their evidence has been taken into consideration by the courts below strictly in accordance with law. Some omissions, improvements in the evidence of the PWs have been pointed out by the learned counsel for the appellants, but we find them to be very trivial in nature.

85. It is settled proposition of law that even if there are some omissions, contradictions and discrepancies, the entire evidence cannot be disregarded. After exercising care and caution and sifting through the evidence to separate truth from untruth, exaggeration and improvements, the court comes to a conclusion as to whether the residuary evidence is sufficient to convict the accused. Thus, an undue importance should not be attached to omissions, contradictions and discrepancies which do not go to the heart of the matter and shake the basic version of the prosecution’s witness. As the mental abilities of a human being cannot be expected to be attuned to absorb all the details of the incident, minor discrepancies are bound to occur in the statements of witnesses.”
Vide Sohrab v. State of M.P., [(1972] 3 SCC 751 : (1972) SCC (Cri) 819 : AIR 1972 SC 2020], State of U.P. v. M.K. Anthony, [(1985) 1 SCC 505 : 1985 SCC (Cri) 105], Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. Sate of Gujrat, [(1983) 3 SCC 217 : 1983 SCC (Cri) 728 : AIR 1983 SC 753], State of Rajasthan v. Om Prakash, [(2007) 12 SCC 381 : (2008) 1 SCC (Cri) 411], Prithu v. State of H.P., [(2009) 11 SCC 585 : (2009) 3 SCC (Cri) 1502], State of U.P. v. Santosh Kumar, [(2009) 9 SCC 626 : (2010) 1 SCC (Cri) 88] and State v. Saravanan, [(2008) 17 SCC 587 : (2010) 4 SCC (Cri) 580].

Supreme Court
C. Muniappan v. State of T.N., (2010) 9 SCC 567