The malaise of witnesses turning hostile | india | Hindustan Times
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The malaise of witnesses turning hostile

india Updated: Feb 12, 2007 20:18 IST

ABOUT A year ago, Bhopal HT Live had carried a number of articles and reports condemning the dastardly murder of Prof HS Sabharwal of Madhav College, Ujjain. HT’s spirited campaign forced the reluctant administration to proceed against the accused who belonged to the student front organisation of the ruling political party.

The trial of the accused who were arrested after much dilly-dallying began a few days ago. After a rather shaky start four crucial witnesses who deposed in the first few days turned hostile claiming they had seen nothing. The possibility of more witnesses turning hostile cannot be ruled out and  there is no way that the court can convict the accused.

The police have often been blamed for failure of important cases when the accused are high-profile persons and can buy witnesses and prevail upon them to pretend ignorance or twist facts. In other cases political and money pressures on the police spoil the case to ensure acquittal of the accused.

This has a terrible effect on the morale of the people who feel that there is no law against the high and mighty and the poor and the helpless get caught and punished. This conduct of the blacksheep amongst the policemen, lack of protection against the retaliation by the powerful and endless rounds of the courts forces witnesses either to avoid standing witness and leave the spot as quickly as possible or pretend ignorance when summoned to the courts to depose. 

The Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases are recent instances where the witnesses turned hostile and the accused were acquitted. It was only on retrial after a public outcry that not only were the powerful accused convicted but also the witnesses who turned hostile were issued “show cause notices” to explain why they should not be prosecuted for perjury.

The law needs to be amended and made more stringent to allow prosecution of hostile witnesses for perjury. Only if the witnesses turning hostile for no other reason except helping the accused are threatened with prosecution and a possible conviction that things will improve