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Summons to witnesses for backtracking

india Updated: Dec 21, 2006 03:26 IST
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The Delhi High Court on Wednesday served notices on the 32 witnesses in the Jessica Lall murder case who turned hostile during the trial. They face the same fate as Zahira Sheikh, who was sent to jail in March by the Supreme Court, for lying under oath in the Best Bakery case.

The witnesses, who had retracted their statements to the police while deposing in the trial court of Additional Sessions Judge SL Bhayana, include two eyewitnesses -- model-actor Shyan Munshi and electrician Shiv Dass.

In the list are also Andaleeb Sehgal, the businessman already facing a probe in the Iraqi oil-for-food scam, and ballistic expert PS Manocha, who had given a report favouring the accused.

"Witnesses turning hostile appears to be the order of the day," the court observed while issuing the notices. "The courts must put an end to this kind of attitude.” While deciding on the case, the court had taken the unprecedented step of salvaging incriminating portions from the testimonies of even hostile witnesses.

All the witnesses have been asked to appear in the court on February 1. They will have to explain why action should not taken against them “under Section 340 of the Criminal Procedure Code for interfering with the administration of justice”. If the court is not satisfied with their explanation, they will be prosecuted. The maximum sentence for perjury is seven years.

The court took suo motu cognisance of the “sad state of affairs” after going through the documents of the proceedings in the trial court which had earlier acquitted all the accused.

In its judgement on the murder it has said that there was a clear indication that several witnesses had been won over by the rich and powerful accused.

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