Supreme Court on Testimony of a Hostile Witness

“51. It is necessary, though painful, to note that PW 7 was examined-in-chief on 30-9-1999 and was cross-examined on 25-5-2001, almost after 1 year and 8 months. The delay in said cross-examination, as we have stated earlier had given enough time for prevarication due to many a reason. A fair trial is to be fair both to the defence and the prosecution as well as to the victim. An offence registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act is to be tried with all seriousness. We fail to appreciate how the learned trial Judge could exhibit such laxity in granting so much time for cross-examination in a case of this nature. It would have been absolutely appropriate on the part of the learned trial Judge to finish the cross-examination on the day the said witness was examined. As is evident, for no reason whatsoever it was deferred and the cross-examination took place after 20 months. The witness had all the time in the world to be gained over. We have already opined that he was declared hostile and re-examined.

52. It is settled in law that the testimony of a hostile witness can be relied upon by the prosecution as well as the defence. In re-examination by the Public Prosecutor, PW 7 has accepted about the correctness of his statement in the court on 13-9-1999. He has also accepted that he had not made any complaint to the Presiding Officer of the court in writing or verbally that the Inspector was threatening him to make a false statement in the court. It has also been accepted by him that he had given the statement in the court on account of fear of false implication by the Inspector. He has agreed to have signed his statement dated 13-9-1999 after going through and admitting it to be correct. It has come in the re-examination that PW 7 had not stated in his statement dated 13-9-1999 in the court that recovery of tainted money was not effected in his presence from the accused or that he had been told by the Inspector that amount has been recovered from the accused. He had also not stated in his said statement that the accused and witnesses were taken to the Tehsil and it was there that he had signed all the memos.

53. Reading the evidence in entirety, PW 7’s evidence cannot be brushed aside. The delay in cross-examination has resulted in his prevarication from the examination-in-chief. But, a significant one, his examinationin-chief and the re-examination impels us to accept the testimony that he had gone into the octroi post and had witnessed about the demand and acceptance of money by the accused. In his cross-examination he has stated that he had not gone with Baj Singh to the Vigilance Department at any time and no recovery was made in his presence. The said part of the testimony, in our considered view, does not commend acceptance in the backdrop of entire evidence in examination-in-chief and the re-examination.

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57. Before parting with the case we are constrained to reiterate what we have said in the beginning. We have expressed our agony and anguish for the manner in which trials in respect of serious offences relating to corruption are being conducted by the trial courts:

57.1. Adjournments are sought on the drop of a hat by the counsel, even though the witness is present in court, contrary to all principles of holding a trial. That apart, after the examination-in-chief of a witness is over, adjournment is sought for cross-examination and the disquieting feature is that the trial courts grant time. The law requires special reasons to be recorded for grant of time but the same is not taken note of.

57.2. As has been noticed earlier, in the instant case the crossexamination has taken place after a year and 8 months allowing ample time to pressurise the witness and to gain over him by adopting all kinds of tactics.

57.3. There is no cavil over the proposition that there has to be a fair and proper trial but the duty of the court while conducting the trial is to be guided by the mandate of the law, the conceptual fairness and above all bearing in mind its sacrosanct duty to arrive at the truth on the basis of the material brought on record. If an accused for his benefit takes the trial on the path of total mockery, it cannot be countenanced. The court has a sacred duty to see that the trial is conducted as per law. If adjournments are granted in this manner it would tantamount to violation of the rule of law and eventually turn such trials to a farce. It is legally impermissible and jurisprudentially abominable. The trial courts are expected in law to follow the command of the procedure relating to trial and not yield to the request of the counsel to grant adjournment for non-acceptable reasons.

57.4. In fact, it is not at all appreciable to call a witness for crossexamination after such a long span of time. It is imperative if the examination-in-chief is over, the cross-examination should be completed on the same day. If the examination of a witness continues till late hours the trial can be adjourned to the next day for cross-examination. It is inconceivable in law that the cross-examination should be deferred for such a long time. It is anathema to the concept of proper and fair trial.

57.5. The duty of the court is to see that not only the interest of the accused as per law is protected but also the societal and collective interest is safeguarded. It is distressing to note that despite series of judgments of this Court, the habit of granting adjournment, really an ailment, continues. How long shall we say, “Awake! Arise!”. There is a constant discomfort. Therefore, we think it appropriate that the copies of the judgment be sent to the learned Chief Justices of all the High Courts for circulating the same among the learned trial Judges with a command to follow the principles relating to trial in a requisite manner and not to defer the cross-examination of a witness at their pleasure or at the leisure of the defence counsel, for it eventually makes the trial an apology for trial and compels the whole society to suffer chicanery. Let it be remembered that law cannot allowed to be lonely; a destitute.”

Supreme Court
Vinod Kumar v. State of Punjab, (2015) 3 SCC 220
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