Hostile witnesses will be punished: minister

April 18th, 2008 - 7:12 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 18 (IANS) With more and more witnesses turning hostile especially in criminal cases, the home ministry proposes to enhance punishment for perjury. Proposals have been made to insert new sections in the Code of Criminal Procedure and also to enhance the punishment for perjury to ensure reliability of witness during deposition in court, Radhika V. Selvi, minister of state for home affairs, stated in a written reply to the Lok Sabha earlier this week.

In cases relating to offences punishable with death or imprisonment for 10 years or more, a witness’ statement shall be recorded on oath by the magistrate who will also satisfy himself that the person is making the statement voluntarily and not under inducement, threat or promise, she said.

The growing trend of witnesses backtracking was first highlighted by Zahira Sheikh in the case relating to the burning of Best Bakery in Vadodara and death of 14 people during communal violence in Gujarat in 2002.

Also, a key witness in the much talked about BMW car hit-and-run case in New Delhi changed his statements.

The Delhi High Court had pulled up 29 witnesses who had turned hostile in the Jessica Lall murder case of 1999 and asked them to file in writing why they retracted their stance during the trial.

Such cases have undermined public confidence in the criminal justice system and contributed to an abysmally low rate of convictions in India, lawyers say.

“This has become a trend now. Witnesses, especially in high-profile cases, turn silent when they appear in court for their final statements,” said advocate K.K. Sood, a lawyer specialising in criminal cases.

He added that when the accused is a high-profile person, the pressure exerted on witnesses to retract their statements confirming the crime is higher.

“Mental trauma, pressure and the power of money force witnesses to take the other way,” said K.K. Manan, another lawyer specialising in criminal cases.

He added that in the absence of witnesses, the prosecution’s case becomes very weak and sometimes the accused go free.

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