A significant reason for witnesses turning hostile may be what is described as 'culture of compromise', the Bench observed.
Attributing ‘culture of compromise’ as one of the reasons for witnesses turning hostile during trial, the Supreme Court in Ramesh vs. State of Haryana, has upheld a High Court judgment that reversed an acquittal recorded by the trial court in a murder case.
The high court, while convicting one Ramesh and others for murder of his wife, had observed that certain prosecution witnesses, which includes father and brother of the deceased, had turn hostile and have been won over by the accused.
The high court held that a dying declaration is a substantive piece of evidence and can be made the basis of conviction once the court is convinced that dying declaration is made voluntarily and is not influenced by any extraneous circumstances.
On an appeal by the accused, a bench comprising Justice AK Sikri and Justice Amitava Roy made an observation regarding the “common phenomenon, almost a regular feature” in criminal cases of witnesses turn hostile. The apex court observed that the following could be the reasons that make witnesses retract their statements before the court and turn hostile: “(i) Threat/intimidation. (ii) Inducement by various means. (iii) Use of muscle and money power by the accused. (iv) Use of Stock Witnesses. (v) Protracted Trials. (vi) Hassles faced by the witnesses during investigation and trial. (vii) Non-existence of any clear-cut legislation to check hostility of witness.”
The court observed: “Apart from the above, another significant reason for witnesses turning hostile may be what is described as 'culture of compromise'”.
Articles of Pratiksha Bakshi and Daniela Berti were quoted in the judgment in this context.
The court observed, in the instant case, the statement of the brother of the deceased, attempting to shield the accused, has been proved to be false in view of the records of PGIMS, where the dying declaration was recorded.
Pratiksha Bakshi, in her article, had opined that the normalising function of the socio-legal category of compromise converts terror into a bargain in a context where there is no witness protection programme.
In his article titled ‘Courts of Law and Legal Practice’, Daniela Berti had said: “In my fieldwork experiences, witnesses become “hostile” not only when they are directly implicated in a case filed by the police, but also when they are on the side of the plaintiff's party. During the often rather long period that elapses between the police investigation and the trial itself, I often observed, the party who has lodged the complaint (and who becomes the main witness) can irreparably compromise the case with the other party by means of compensation, threat or blackmail.”
Read the Judgment here.