Expressing serious concern over the growing trend of witnesses turning hostile, the Supreme Court has called for a witness protection programme, saying “it shakes public confidence in criminal justice system”.
A bench headed by Justice AK Sikri said the State needed to come out with a witness-protection programme, at least in sensitive cases involving those having political and financial muscle, so that trial does not get “tainted and derailed”.
It dismissed an appeal filed by four members of a family convicted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court for subjecting a married woman to cruelty and her murder and rejected her brother’s testimony who was “won over” by the accused.
“Present case appears to have been stung by ‘culture of compromise’, it said, adding, “Fortunately, statement of PW-4 (brother of the deceased) in attempting to shield the accused (husband of the deceased) has been proved to be false in view of the records of PGIMS, Rohtak and, therefore, we held that the high court was right in discarding his testimony.”
“When the witnesses are not able to depose correctly in the court of law, it results in low rate of conviction and many times even hardened criminals escape the conviction. It shakes public confidence in the criminal justice delivery system,” the bench said.
“It is for this reason there has been a lot of discussion on witness protection and from various quarters demand is made for the State to play a definite role in coming out with witness protection programme, at least in sensitive cases involving those in power, who have political patronage and could wield muscle and money power, to avert trial getting tainted and derailed and truth becoming a casualty,” it noted.
The SC upheld the HC verdict giving life imprisonment to Ramesh, his brother Suresh, their mother Prem and Suresh’s wife Saroj for burning to death Roshni, wife of main accused Ramesh on September 20, 1999, in Haryana’s Jhajjar district for dowry.
Relying on the statement of Balraj – the brother of the deceased woman – the Sessions Court had acquitted the four accused and chose to ignore her dying declaration naming the four family members.
The court said it was possible that police exerted pressure on witnesses while recording their statement.
“However, this is no longer the reason in most of the cases. This trend of witnesses turning hostile is due to various other factors. It may be fear of deposing against the accused/delinquent or political pressure or pressure of other family members or other such sociological factors. It is also possible that witnesses are corrupted with monetary considerations,” it noted.