Nine months after the Supreme Court upheld the life sentence awarded to Manu Sharma for murdering model Jessica Lall, the Delhi high court is set to resume perjury proceedings against model-actor Shayan Munshi and 18 other witnesses in the case, on February 18. Manu Sharma is the son of former Congress MP Venod Sharma.
After overturning his acquittal by the trial court and sentencing Manu Sharma to life imprisonment on December 18, 2006, the high court had initiated perjury proceedings against the “hostile” witnesses for lying under oath in the trial court, and issued notices to them. They can be jailed for a maximum of seven years.
In the FIR, Munshi, the man who tended the bar with Jessica on April 29, 1999, had told the police that he saw Manu Sharma fire two bullets, one in the air and the other at Jessica that hit her in the eye during a high-profile party at the Tamarind Court bar at South Delhi’s Qutub Colonnade.
But he changed his version before the court and said he did not understand Hindi and could not decipher the police statement he had signed “in a state of frenzy”.
Those summoned by the high court included SD Yadav, an electrician at Tamarind Court, ballistic expert PS Minocha, and Shankar Mukhia, an employee at Manu Sharma’s farmhouse in Sambhalkha, Haryana.
However, the proceedings had been stayed after Manu Sharma filed an appeal in the Supreme Court and lawyers for the witnesses questioned how could they be held guilty of “deliberately deposing falsely” in the trial court if the apex court acquitted Manu Sharma after relying on their statements.
Justice RS Sodhi, who initiated the perjury proceedings, had clearly told the lawyer for the witnesses “if the Supreme Court sets Manu Sharma free, you go free, if he is convicted, you all are going to be in trouble”. On April 20, 2010, the Supreme Court upheld Manu Sharma’s conviction.
On August 10, 2010, the Delhi Police filed before the high court the apex court judgment upholding Manu Sharma’s conviction, and sought perjury punishment for the witnesses. A bench headed by Justice BD Ahmed has fixed February 18 as the date of hearing.
Delhi Police Standing Counsel (Criminal) Pawan Sharma said: “The Supreme Court has not quashed the proceedings against the witnesses. The high court bench, which pronounced Manu Sharma guilty, clearly said a case of perjury was made out against some key witnesses who turned hostile.”
The Delhi Police told the court that the proceeding against the witnesses was kept in abeyance only because the Supreme Court was to decide on Manu Sharma’s appeal.
The police have asked the judges to punish the witnesses or ask the registrar of the court to file a formal complaint before the chief metropolitan magistrate of Delhi to handle the issue as per procedure.
Munshi’s lawyer Aman Lekhi told the Hindustan Times: “The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court relied on Munshi’s statements to convict Manu Sharma. The proceedings against Munshi are wholly untenable and completely devoid of any justification. The perjury notice ignores settled principles of law. Certain contradictions in the statements given to police and the court do not make him a hostile witness or a dishonest one. Perjury charges will be challenged.”