Dealing with hostile witnesses

The views and counterviews in the aftermath of the court verdict in the Jessica Lall murder case have generated more heat than light, particularly about prosecution witnesses going hostile during trial and the orchestrated pleas for offence of perjury against such witnesses. Legal provisions need to be highlighted in this context. The expression hostile witness is no where used in the Cr PC or any other Act. The Cr PC does not mention that if a prosecution witness goes back on his police statement under Section 161, he, by that very fact, renders himself liable to the offence of perjury under Section 193 IPC.

On the other hand, Section 162 envisages the contingency of a prosecution witness being contradicted by the accused during trial with reference to his statement under Section 161 Cr PC because the police statements, whether recorded genuinely or concocted, are in law not substantive evidence; they are meant for contradicting a witness and not for corroboration of the prosecution version as observed by the Supreme Court in Baldev Singh vs State of Punjab.

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The offence of perjury arises only when a person “intentionally gives false evidence at any stage of judicial proceedings…” Under Section 195 Cr PC, only the court before whom a false evidence has been given is competent to file a written complaint of perjury against the person concerned.

K. MEGHNA, Senior Advocate, Delhi High Court, Delhi


I welcome the reopening of the Jessica Lall murder case. The acquittal of all the accused by the trial court judge testify Anarchis’ statement: “Written laws are like spider’s web; they will catch, it is true, weak and poor but would be torn in pieces by the rich and the powerful”.

To quote Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, “…Experience shows that where the accused happens to be rich and/or influential persons or members of mafia gang, the witnesses very often turn hostile either because of inducements or threats.” The retrial of the Best Bakery case suggests that the accused involved in killing 14 people went scot free for the same reasons quoted above. It was only after the Supreme Court’s order that the culprits in this case were awarded life imprisonment after retrial in Maharashtra.

Lacunae in the criminal justice system like half-hearted and improper investigation, frequent delays due to avoidable reasons, witnesses turning hostile, false evidences, etc. distort the outcome of the probe that prepares the ground for the accused to go unpunished. There is a need to plug all these loopholes. The Jessica case should be reinvestigated in a manner that connivers and abettors are brought under the ambit of law to face legal consequences.

Dr I.S. KALRA, Ludhiana


We need a special Act to tackle such cases. If we can make laws like TADA and POTA to tackle terrorism, why can’t we have an Act under which such cases are probed and tried faster? The witnesses must appear before the magistrate to record their statements. Heavy punishment should be given in case of their retraction of the testimony in the court.

The guilty must be brought to book. The powers of the investigating agencies should be enhanced. Let legal experts work out the details.

Lieut-Col A.P.S. DHILLON (retd), Chandigarh


The media has rightly voiced its concern about the shoddy and lopsided prosecution in the Jessica case. The main problems here are the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code which are 171 years old and outlived their utility. The need of the hour is a thorough overhaul of the system.

Since the prosecuting agency works directly under the government, the pulls and pressures of the mighty will continue to throw up many such cases of miscarriage of justice and affect the fair image of the judiciary.

The best way out is the suggestion of former CJI, Justice V.N. Khare, for the creation of an independent constitutional authority to deal with prosecution on the lines of the Election Commission.

S.S. GILL, Jagraon

Pension option the best

I refer to the news-item “PU staff confused over pension scheme” (March 18). True, the employees are facing a tough choice between retaining the Contributory Provident Fund (CPF) and pension. The employees are unable to give their choice before April 3 due to lack of proper guidance.

The pension scheme is good as a post-retirement security. Even those who had retired prior to January 1, 2004, should also choose this scheme and return to the university the money obtained through the CPF scheme on their superannuation.

The facility of commutation, i.e. 40 per cent of pension along with other retiral benefit, would help reduce the retiree’s burden of returning the CPF in lump sum.

Dr U.S. MALIK, Joint Director, (Treasuries & Accounts), Haryana, Chandigarh


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