Witnesses turning hostile is cancerous for judiciary: Bombay High Court

Mumbai: Observing that the law cannot be respected by threatening legal action but now time has come to initiate strict action against the hostile witnesses, the Bombay High Court recently acquitted a 75-year-old woman, who was convicted for killing her own husband. The HC has ordered all district courts to ensure perjury proceedings are initiated against those witnesses, who retract from their earlier statements, before the trial courts.

A bench of Justices Ravindra Ghuge and Bhalchandra Debadwar while hearing a criminal appeal of the senior citizen woman, noted that in her case itself, five of the seven prosecution witnesses had turned hostile.

"We find it appropriate to hold that we cannot turn a blind eye to the menace of hostile witnesses and we cannot find ourselves helpless as against the conduct of the hostile witnesses. 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 judges observed.

The judges further noted that 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," the bench said.

"Though the respect for law cannot be ensured by the threat of legal action, the time has come to initiate action against hostile witnesses in all such cases so as to send out a message loud and clear to the society at large that the witnesses becoming hostile cannot be ignored or pardoned," the bench added.

The observations were made while acquitting the senior citizen woman, who was convicted by a lower court for killing her own husband by smashing his face by a heavy stone. However, out of the total seven witnesses in the case, five of them had turned hostile and refused to support the prosecution case.

"Keeping in view that the prosecution has conducted the trial in a casual and half-hearted manner, five out of seven witnesses have turned hostile and as material witnesses have not been examined, we are constrained to grant the benefit of doubt to the accused and order her acquittal," the judges concluded.

“We find it appropriate to hold that we cannot turn a blind eye to the menace of hostile witnesses and we cannot find ourselves helpless as against the conduct of the hostile witnesses.
–Bench of Justices Ravindra Ghuge and Bhalchandra Debadwar

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