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“Witnesses becoming hostile cannot be ignored or pardoned” :Bombay HC while acquitting the accused in a murder case [READ JUDGMENT]

“Witnesses becoming hostile cannot be ignored or pardoned” :Bombay HC  while acquitting the accused in a murder case [READ JUDGMENT]
The divisional bench of Justice B.U. Debadwar and Justice Ravindra V. Ghuge of the Bombay High court while acquitting the accused in a murder case called out the prosecution and remarked “the prosecution has conducted the trial in a casual and halfhearted manner.” The court further directed legal action against the hostile witnesses calling the problem of witnesses turning hostile “cancerous” to the justice system.

Facts of the Matter:

The deceased and the accused were married. Both used to quarrel over some agricultural land which was in the name of the deceased. They had five daughters and one son. All the daughters are married. An agricultural land admeasuring about 3 to 4 acres was in the name and in the possession of the deceased.

Because of his constant quarrels with the appellant, he was intending to donate it to any religious trust/ Devasthan or a person, who would maintain him during his old age. This was said to be a primary reason for the quarrels between the couple.

On 10.10.2013, early in the morning the deceased Ganpat Landge was found dead in his house, which was alleged to be an unnatural death. The accused went to the police station with her son and made the statement that she killed her husband. The police went to the scene and collected all the evidence including the stone and plank which was used to strike the deceased and sent the body to postmortem. 

After evaluation of the evidence, medical report of the deceased and multiple testimonies of witnesses and accused herself, the trial court found the wife guilty and sentenced her imprisonment for life. After most of the witnesses turned hostile and the prosecution’s case weakened, the accused filed an appeal in the high court against her conviction and sentencing.

Appellant’s Contentions

The counsel for the appellant contended that five out of seven vital witnesses of the prosecution had turned hostile. He also said that “It requires no debate that the statements made to the police have no evidenciary value” and pointed out that the police officer who recorded the statement was also not cross-examined. 

The counsel further argued that 65-year old accused was physically incapable to brutally attack the deceased to his death the way it was described in the medical report of the deceased. The deceased is also said to have been given an electric shock allegedly by the appellant old lady. The counsel finally pleaded that in the absence of any vital witness or any coherent evidence the trial court’s conviction and sentencing to be set aside.

Prosecution’s Submissions

The learned prosecutor has strenuously supported the impugned judgment and his submissions can be summarized as under

The prosecutor said that the deceased and the accused constantly quarreled over a piece of land which was in the name of the deceased due to which the accused killed him The prosecutor submitted that the appellant was not present at the police station or that the appellant has made a voluntary statement that she would hand over the stone and wire from her house .He then admitted that the appellant was his relative. This is yet another case of a witness turning hostile, which has facilitated an advantage to the appellant. He further added that since the accused was alone in the room with the deceased at the time of death, she was to explain how the husband died as per section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

He prayed that the appeal should be quashed.

Court’s Decision

The divisional bench after evaluating the postmortem report, observed that the deceased suffered a homicidal death and he was killed by a brutal attack. However, the court seriously doubted that a 65-year old woman could cause the vicious injuries that the deceased suffered. 

The court further said that since most of the vital witnesses turned hostile and no other evidence or material was provided by the prosecution to corroborate their narrative, there was a degree of doubt. The court further made it clear that FIR and extra-judicial testimony or statements were not admissible in court and pointed out the prosecution’s shortcoming and commented:

The learned prosecutor has not properly or skillfully cross-examined the hostile witnesses and it appears that he has halfheartedly and casually conducted the cross-examination. Even the photographs of the dead body and the interiors of the room, though clicked, were not proved by the prosecution.”

Since there was a benefit of doubt in the favor of the accused the court ordered her acquittal and allowed the appeal. The court, however, took the problem of hostile witness very gravely and remarked:

We are finding practically in every case before us that day by day, the list of hostile witnesses is getting enlarged and the witnesses are getting emboldened in turning hostile for the reasons which can be speculated and perceived. The reasons for turning hostile could include threats, coercion and pressure tactics. However, it is a matter of a great concern if the witnesses turn hostile for extraneous considerations and such hostile witnesses begin to believe that they are far beyond the reach of the arms of law. This would not only be a serious ailment/ disease to the justice dispensation system, but could as well be cancerous to the rule of law and the justice delivery system.”

After feeling the need for a legal step in the matter, the court directed the trial court to take appropriate legal action against all the hostile witnesses in the present case under section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973.

 

[READ JUDGMENT]


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