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Critical Analysis Of Hostile Witness

One of the major roles played in Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is of the witness. Witness is a person who provides for evidence or himself testifies before a court of law. Chapter IX and Chapter X of Indian Evidence Act, 1872 named Of Witness and Of Examination Of Witness respectively, consisting of 49 sections ranging from sec 118 to 166There have been various cases where witnesses are harassed, bribed, threatened, abducted to do away with. The witness therefore becomes very vulnerable and turns hostile at the trial of the case. Provided the importance of a witness any law addressing the problem of hostile witness is a welcomed law.

Witness Under Indian Evidence Act

The Indian Evidence Act, Chapter IX, deals with witnesses. Both persons shall be eligible to testify unless the court determines that they are unable to understand questions due to their tender years, severe old age, disability, whether physical or mental, or some other similar cause.

Hostile Witness

There is no use of the word "hostility" or any definition of hostility. These terms are taken from the British legal system. When a prosecution witness is called to provide testimony in a criminal trial, he appears in court but does not affirm his prior evidence/statement that was registered or obtained by the investigating agency. He's referred to as an adversarial witness or a hostile witness.

Supreme Court inGura Singh v State of Rajasthantried to define hostile witness and laid down that under the common law the hostile witness is described as one who is not desirous of telling the truth at the instance of one party calling him and an unfavorable witness is one called by a party to prove a particular fact in issue or relevant to the issue who fails to prove such facts or proves the opposite test.

Reasons For Witness Turning Hostile

Here we will be discussing reasons behind a witness tuning hostile.
  1. Absence of Witness Protection
    The witness is now the one who has the ability to reveal the perpetrator's identity and bring justice to the victim. As a result, the witness is subjected to harassment and threats by the perpetrator or his associates. Alternatively, the witness could be paid to remain silent. Due to the convict's wrath, the witness withdraws.. In Mahender Chawla and Ors. v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors the Hon'ble Court specifically held that one of the main reasons for the witnesses to turn hostile is that they are not accorded appropriate protection by the State. Clearly, threat to life, induced by coercion, compulsion, violence, etc., may often result in witnesses from contracting from truth, even if the same may go against their conscience or will.

    1. Absence of Adequate Facilities in the Court
      Roles played by witnesses are unparalleled despite this fact the witnesses are made to suffer in the process of appearing before the court due to lack of basic facilities in the courts.The 14th Law Commission Reporthighlighted that in several States, the witnesses are made to wait under trees in Court campuses, or in the verandas of court houses. They are not protected from vagaries of the weather. Even the sheds of the courts are dilapidated.
       
  2. Delay In Court Proceedings
    Apart from factors mentioned above another factor responsible for witness turning hostile is delay in court proceedings which results in the summoning of witness to the court which causes inconvenience and hence the witness turns hostile in order to get rid of summons.
     
  3. Accused granted Bail by the Court
    Though the bail is a right of every person accused of a crime but criminal granted bail even after doing a heinous crime acts as deterrence to the witness as they loses the faith in judiciary and courage to fight the criminal.Cases where high profile personalities are involved the court grants bail very easily hence again the witness is discouraged to fight for justice alone.

Consequences Of Witness Turning Hostile

  1. Low Conviction Rate

    The NCRB data revealed that over half of the trials in the country end in the acquittal of the accused: he overall conviction rate at the end of 2017 was 48.8 percent. The conviction rates for theft and criminal breach of trust are lower than the average: at 36 percent and 23.6 percent respectively.
     
  2. Offence Of Perjury

    Section 191 of Indian Penal code binds a person legally to state truth not only if bound by oath but also if bound by some law. Failing which he shall be liable for giving of false evidence. Further section 164 of CrPC makes a person liable of giving false evidence intentionally if he contradicts himself in the court.
     
  3. Blow On The Faith In Judiciary

    Acquittals in criminal cases of the accused are what hinder people from opting for criminal trial if anything happens to them. Judiciary should always work in such a manner as to strengthen its faith amongst the public. However, this strength is hampered when a witness turns hostile at serious turns of the trial and thus results in the acquittal of the accused.

Conclusion
The issue of witness protection dates long back and has been a prominent problem in the justice delivery system of India. The problems the witnesses go through before, at the time and after the trial are big. They fear the life of their own and their family members. Witnesses in cases involving high profile people are vulnerable to criminal intimidation. This influence can be made either by use of muscle power or money power.

There need to be more strict laws concerning the protection of witness as is at the present. Strict laws protecting the witness will be protecting witness from turning hostile and becoming a helping hand of the court in delivering justice.

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