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Observing that the trial court “erred” in accepting the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness and actor Salman Khan’s former police bodyguard Ravindra Patil, the Bombay High Court raised a series of questions regarding the order passed by a sessions court in May this year. Justice A R Joshi upheld Khan’s appeal Thursday and acquitted him of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run case. The trial court had handed the actor a five-year jail sentence.
Justice Joshi observed that the trial court made a mistake in accepting bills produced by the investigating agency as proof that Khan and his friends were drinking at Rain Bar that night.
A sessions court had held that considering the evidence that the accused had visited Rain Bar, and considering the evidence of a medical officer and chemical analyser, it could be “inferred that at a time of driving the vehicle accused was under intoxication”.
Regarding the testimony of Patil, the HC said it should not have been considered because, under the Evidence Act, Patil’s testimony given to a magistrate could not be taken on record in a sessions court if the two courts were hearing charges under different sections of the law, as was the case here.
Justice Joshi also raised questions regarding the recording of Patil’s testimony by the prosecution, considering that Patil was the first informant. “It is also a curious case that evidence of 24 witnesses were recorded before the sessions court and not for a single moment did the court enquire about the first informant,” said Justice Joshi.
On the other hand, the sessions court had, while convicting Salman, observed, “Fullest opportunity is given to the accused to cross-examine Ravindra Patil in the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court and the said opportunity was availed by the accused. So, it cannot be said that the accused was not having opportunity to cross-examine Ravindra Patil.” Sessions Judge D W Deshpande had said it was “safe” to admit the evidence of Ravindra Patil under Section 33 of the Evidence Act.
The HC also held that the prosecution’s complaints about the “belated deposition” by Salman’s driver Ashok Singh could not be acceptable, as a defence witness could only depose after examination of prosecution witnesses was over.
“Wrong impression has been created, which has also been expressed by prosecution before sessions court that defence witness (Ashok) came after 13 years,” said Justice Joshi.
On the other hand, the trial court had called Ashok Singh a “got-up witness” who came to “help” Salman on the instruction of the latter’s father Salim Khan. “After 13 years, for the first time under Section 313 of CrPC, accused has stated that initially Altaf and thereafter Ashok Singh was driving the vehicle,” the sessions judge had said.
Sessions judge Desphande had observed that Khan never suggested that it was initially Altaf driving the vehicle from his house. “It was also never suggested to any of the witnesses that at JW Marriott Altaf was having giddiness and therefore he contacted Ashok Singh to come to J W Marriott to reach accused at his house,” the judge had observed in his judgment.