Hostile Witness – Problems and Consequences

A witness is an important party in a case apart from the complainant and the accused in a particular case and by giving evidence relating to the offence, he assists the court to discover the truth for justice delivery system. Sections 118 – 165 of the the Indian Evidence Act 1872 deals with the witness.

Hostile Witness according to Section 154 of The Indian Evidence Act is described as one who is not desirous of telling the truth at the instance of the party calling him. It is also called an Unfavorable witness.

Nowadays, the main cause for the high acquittal rate in our criminal justice system is due to the witness turning hostile. In order to get rid of the cross examination as early as possible, either the witness gives false statements or to make the matter worse, turns hostile which means he/she retract from his previous statement but the main question arises here is that why do the witnesses turn hostile. The main reasons behind this are the money and muscle power, intimidation and monetary inducement.

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There are a numerous reasons for a witness turning hostile, the major one lack of police protection during and after the trial and delay in disposal of cases. In fact witnesses are harassed lot. A witness is not treated with respect in the Court. He is pushed out from the crowded courtroom by the peon. He waits for the whole day and then finds the matter adjourned. He has no place to sit and no place even to have a glass of water. And when he does appear in the Court, he is subjected to prolonged and unchecked examination and cross-examination and finds himself in a hapless situation. For all these reasons and others a person abhors becoming a witness. There is urgent need to provide adequate protection to the witness from intimidation by criminals and should be treated well.

A classic case of a witness turning hostile, which shook the fundamental principles of our criminal justice system, was the repeated retraction of statements by Zahira Sheikh and the circumstances forcing her to do so in the Best Bakery retrial case and in Jessica Lal case, most of the eye witnesses did not open up to pin point the possible reason which compelled them to change their stand.

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Post Contributed By:

Laxmi Khawas, IILS

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