The Supreme Court has said that a rustic witness was ‘bound to get confused and make some inconsistent statements’ if he is subjected to ‘fatiguing, taxing and tiring cross-examination’ for days.
As compared to an educated witness, such a witness with rural background cannot be expected to remember every small detail of an incident and the manner in which it happened.
This was more so when the witness is under the shock of the death of near relatives, said the bench of Justice Harjit Singh Bedi and Justice J.M. Panchal Tuesday.
Involved in the case were three accused led by Shrikrishna who were awarded death sentence by a trial court for murdering six people on the night of Aug 10/11, 1991. The accused wanted to punish the victims because their daughter had eloped with latter’s son.
However, on grounds of discrepancies in the evidence tendered by the prosecution witnesses, the Allahabad High Court acquitted all the accused and rejected the trial court reference seeking confirmation of the death sentence.
All the accused belonged to village Lakhanpur in Uttar Pradesh’s Farrukhabad district.
Justice Panchal said: ‘Some discrepancies are bound to take place if a witness is cross-examined at length for days together’ and if the evidence was recorded after a lapse of time.
Assailing the Allahabad High Court for interfering with the well considered verdict of the trial court, the apex court said that ‘the court must keep in mind all these relevant factors while appreciating evidence of a rustic witness’.
It said: ‘The discrepancies noticed in the evidence of a rustic witness who is subjected to gruelling cross-examination should not be blown out of proportion.
‘To do so is to ignore hard realities of village life and give undeserved benefit to the accused who have perpetrated heinous crime.’
The court said that ‘the basic principle of appreciation of evidence of a rustic witness who is not educated and comes from the poor strata of society is that the evidence of such a witness should be appreciated as a whole’.
The court said that there was a difference between the evidence tendered by a rustic witness coming from rural backdrop and one who is educated.
In the instant case, the apex court judgment said that it was of the firm opinion that the high court ‘gravely erred’ in not accepting evidence of prosecution witness Jhabbulal.
Jhabbulal, being a rustic witness, was not expected to always have an alert mind and so possess the precise idea of direction, area and distance from which he witnessed an incident.
Thus, the judgment said, the court must keep in mind all these relevant factors while appreciating evidence of a rustic witness.
The apex court set aside the high court verdict and restored the conviction by the trial court under section 302 of Indian Penal Code.
However, it modified the sentence to life imprisonment to all the three accused. The court said that to restore the death sentence after the accused were acquitted in 2002 would not be justified.