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32 hostile witnesses get HC notices
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, December 20
Expressing grave concern over a large number of witnesses in Jessica Lall murder case turning hostile in the trial court, including three eyewitnesses in whose presence she was shot dead by Manu Sharma at a crowded restaurant here seven years ago, the Delhi High Court in a suo motu action issued notices to 32 such persons.

“To our utter surprise we found that during the trial as many as 32 witnesses in all which include three eye witnesses of the murder and one ballistic expert had to be declared hostile by the prosecution. That is definitely a sad state of affairs,” a Bench of Mr Justice R.S. Sodhi and Mr Justice P.K. Bhasin said, asking them to personally appear before the court on February 1, 2007.

Terming the latest trend of witnesses turning hostile and posing a grave danger to the criminal justice delivery system, the court said steps needed to be taken to thwart such a move.

Using its power under Section 340 of CrPC to summon the hostile witnesses, including model Shyan Munshi, cited by prosecution as a key eyewitness and ballistic expert Prem Sagar Manocha, the list of 32 mainly has the names of those high-profile people of society who were present in the party at Tamarind Court restaurant run by socialite Bina Ramani, where the murder took place.

All the 32 witnesses were asked to reply to the show cause notice why action under Section 340 of CrPC should not be taken against them for resiling from their statements given to the police during investigation. There had been charges of several witnesses being won over by the accused persons or coerced to retract their statements.

Under the provision of law, if they fail to give satisfactory response to the court notice, it might direct a magistrate to initiate action against him by registering a formal case for interfering with the justice delivery system.

The list also has the name of Andaleeb Sehgal, whose name had also figured in the Iraqi oil-for-food scam and another key witness Karan Rajput.

The Bench directed SHO of Mehrauli police station under the jurisdiction of which the Tamarind Court fell, to get the notices served on them well before the next hearing to ensure their presence.

“The courts must put an end to this kind of attitude of witnesses turning hostile… it is expedient in the interest of justice to take recourse to Section 340 of CrPC,” the Bench said.


I could not have asked for more: Sabrina

New Delhi, December 20
There was a sense of relief that justice had finally been done on Wednesday as the Delhi High Court sentenced Manu Sharma to life for the 1999 murder of model Jessica Lall, with her sister Sabrina saying she could not have asked God for more.

"It is a feeling of relief and happiness for us. We were relieved after Manu Sharma was convicted. I could not have asked for more from God," said Sabrina, who fought a seven-year battle to get justice for her sister, shot dead at a party in the upmarket Tamarind Court restaurant on April 30, 1999 for refusing Manu Sharma a drink.

"I wanted him to get life imprisonment so that he could suffer all his life. I do not believe in death sentence," added the much relieved Sabrina.

Besides sentencing Manu Sharma for life and imposing a fine of Rs 50,000 for Jessica's family, the court also gave a four-year jail term to his accomplices, Vikas Yadav and Amardeep Singh Gill, for tampering with the evidence and trying to shield him.

If the verdict signalled the end of a long battle for justice for Sabrina, for Delhi police and its prosecution wing, it was a vindication that their investigation was sound.

"We always believed that there was strong evidence against Manu Sharma and conviction should have taken place at the trial court stage. I am happy that good investigation has led to this judgement as my team worked in collecting these evidence," said Mr Amod Kanth, Director-General of the Arunachal Pradesh police who was Joint Commissioner in Delhi police when the murder occurred.

"I am happy that law has caught up with the guilty." For college students in the capital, who grouped under the "United Students" banner to wage a battle for "Justice to Jessica" after a lower court in February acquitted all nine accused, the verdict was a pointer that other cases could go this way too.

"We are happy that the initiative that was taken by a group of college students after the lower court's decision has brought results. We only wanted a fair trial in the case, so we had organised a candle light march and signature campaign," said Dhruv Suri, a third year law student of Indraprastha University.

"I hope the courts will also give a fair trial to the thousands of other cases that are pending. We were hopeful of victory after the response we got from the public," he said.

"This is the second victory for us after the Priyadarshini Mattoo case," said another student, Adiya Raj Kaul, referring to the conviction for Santosh Kumar Singh in the rape and murder of Delhi student Priyadarshini Mattoo.

"I personally had no hope that we would be able to come this far because I knew that our fight was against the high and the mighty. But the truth has prevailed finally and I am happy for the family members of Jessica Lall." —IANS




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