4 Feb 2021 5:40 AM GMT
The Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court in a recent order observed that the courts cannot "turn a blind eye to the menace of hostile witnesses," while directing the trial court to take action against five witnesses whose evidence resulted in the acquittal of a 75-year-old woman. A division bench of Jusitces Ravindra Ghuge and BU Debadwar said that even though respect for the...
The Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court in a recent order observed that the courts cannot "turn a blind eye to the menace of hostile witnesses," while directing the trial court to take action against five witnesses whose evidence resulted in the acquittal of a 75-year-old woman.
A division bench of Jusitces Ravindra Ghuge and BU Debadwar said that even though respect for the law cannot be guaranteed by the threat of legal action, it has become necessary to send a "loud and clear" message to society that hostile witnesses shall not be pardoned.
The bench directed the trial court to take action under section 340 of the Criminal Procedure Code against the witnesses, and a copy of the judgement to be forwarded to the Principal District and Sessions Judges in Maharashtra for circulation, to apprise the subordinate judiciary about the action they were empowered to take in appropriate cases.
The bench held that it was a matter of "great concern" if witnesses turned hostile for "extraneous considerations," as they would then begin to believe they are beyond the reach 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," the bench observed.
"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 court added.
The court was hearing the appeal of 75-year-old Saraswati Ganpat Landge, who was sentenced to life imprisonment on September 11, 2014 by the Ambajogai Sessions Court, in Beed, for the brutal murder of her husband over few acres of land the man intended to donate.
The prosecution alleged that Landge smashed her husband's face with an 8-kilogram stone, mutilated his genitals and then electrocuted the man to ensure he dies. Landge had allegedly confessed to killing her husband to a police officer soon after the incident.
During the trial five of the seven witnesses examined were declared hostile, despite which Landge was convicted. These witnesses included the couple's son (complainant) who lived with them, a neighbour and a formal witness(panch), among others.
The HC court acquitted Langde and observed that it highly doubted that a senior citizen could carry such a heavy stone or have caused the injuries to the man's genitals. Moreover, even though the investigating officer said the murder weapon was recovered at her behest, the hostile witnesses had created a huge cloud if the couple was alone in the room on the fateful night of the murder.
The court held that the trial court erred in using the FIR as a substantial piece of evidence. "We, therefore, find that the conclusion of the Trial Court that the quarrels between the appellant and the deceased were proved on the basis of the FIR, is unacceptable. The FIR cannot be used as substantive piece of evidence."
Commenting on the poor execution by the prosecution in the case, the court observed. "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, that we are constrained to grant the benefit of doubt to the appellant/ accused and order her acquittal."
The court relied on the following judgements to make observations against witnesses.
State of Maharashtra vs. Krishna Sitaram Pawar, Criminal Confirmation Case No.2/2020
Ramji Duda Makwana vs. The State of Maharashtra, 1994 Cri.L.J. 1987 (Bombay High Court) and
State through PS Lodhi Colony, New Delhi vs. Sanjeev Nanda, (2012) 8 SCC 450
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