The government has dropped plans to amend the criminal procedure law to plug loopholes aimed at preventing witnesses from turning hostile and getting away with it.
The proposal prompted by the hostile witnesses of the Jessica Lal murder case sought to make it mandatory for police officers to produce important witnesses in heinous crimes like murder before a magistrate for recording his statement at the initial stages of investigation.
The amendments were part of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2006 as part of the ongoing attempt by the Union home ministry to tone up the criminal justice system. It proposed summary trials for witnesses who retract statements made before a magistrate and prescribed imprisonment for anything between three months to two years for them.
But the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs that examined the legislative proposals last year concluded it was unworkable as judicial officers expected to record statements of witnesses were already overburdened and would slow down the already slow wheels of justice.
The committee had also expressed reservations on the government pushing for courts summarily trying 58 serious offences punishable with up to three years imprisonment. These included offences like theft, extortion, breach of trust and subjecting married women to cruelty. Since courts are not required to record the evidence in detail in summary trials, it would have created problems if the accused had to appeal.
“It has been decided to drop both provisions in light of the suggestions received by the government,” a senior home ministry official told Hindustan Times, acknowledging that the move to get magistrates to record statements of witnesses may have been impractical.
The Union Cabinet accepted the home ministry's decision earlier this month when it cleared the official amendments to be moved when Parliament takes up the Bill for passage.
The amendments were moved in the backdrop of a public outcry over the acquittal of the accused in the Jessica Lal case at the trial stage in 2006 due to crucial witnesses turning hostile.
On an appeal by the police, the high court, however, dubbed model Shayan Munshi — who was one of the three witnesses to have turned hostile weakening the prosecution case — as a liar and sentenced prime accused Manu Sharma to life imprisonment.
Officials, however, pointed out that the proposal for simplification of the summary procedure and expansion of the offences to be tried summarily could bounce back at a later stage. "The decision at this stage is to have the issue looked at by an expert committee. This panel would look into the 58 new offences to be proposed to be brought under summary trials and other related issues," an official said.