Witness act may cover whistle-blowers, RTI activists

Witness act may cover whistle-blowers, RTI activists
Witness act may cover whistle-blowers, RTI activists

Maharashtra government was considering inclusion of whistle-blowers and RTI activists in the proposed Witness Protection Act, it told the Bombay High Court today.

While a policy to provide police protection to witnesses in sensitive cases was already in place, a legislation would be framed soon, additional government pleader Nitin Deshpande told the division bench of justices A S Okaand Revati Mohite-Dere.

Apart from the witnesses, the government was considering inclusion of RTI activists and whistle-blowers in the Act, he said.

Giving the government three months to frame the law, the High Court said until it came into effect, the police should provide protection to whistle-blowers and RTI activists upon request.

The issue of protection of witnesses, whistle-blowers and activists was taken up suo moto (on its own) by the court after the murder of Pune-based RTI activist Satish Shetty in 2010.

Judges suggest speedy trial ways, lawyers boycott

Amid lawyers refusing to represent the accused in the gang rape-cum-murder case of 23-year-old paramedic, two women judges have come out with suggestions for effective fast-tracking of the trial.

While Justice Gyan Sudha Misra, a sitting Supreme Court judge, suggested amendments to the Evidence Act to avoid recording of evidence at multiple stages to “cut-short” the whole process of trial, former Delhi High Court judge, Justice Usha Mehra opined that the trial judge should ensure service of lawyers to accused from the very outset of the trial.

According to Justice Misra, “I feel in such cases of heinous crimes against women, it should be one-to-one between accused and victim as cases of these natures ultimately hinge on evidence collected by police.”

She also added, “Evidence recorded by the police from the accused and the victim’s side should be recorded before a judicial officer. Why should the statement of prosecution and defence witnesses be recorded at multiple stages? Let us bring changes to the Indian Evidence Act.”

“If the evidence led by the accused and the victim is recorded in front of a judicial officer, why should there be need for a lawyer to record evidence the second time in the court, as it is done today.

Justice Misra added, “The thing left for courts would be only cross-examination and arguments and that is how fast track courts are also going to be fast. Recording of evidence a second time in the court gives rise to manipulations, witnesses turning hostile and in many cases killing of star witnesses”

Justice Mehra, the head of government-appointed one member commission to probe the gangrape case, however, said earlier also, in many cases, the lawyers had refused to represent the accused and they cannot be forced to appear on their behalf but the trial judge has the discretion to provide lawyers to accused either from the legal aid or appoint amicus curiae to defend them.

A rustic witness can get confused, says apex court

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.