Commuting the death penalty awarded to two men for killing a man after he objected to them teasing his sister, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday issued a slew of directions to ensure that the examination of witnesses in cases of heinous crimes is conducted expeditiously.
A High Court bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Mukta Gupta, in its order, took note of the “collective failure of the prosecution and the “trial court” to complete the examination of the key witness prior to the release of the accused on bail.
“The inexplicably long gap in the dates of examination in chief of PW-3 resulted in her resiling from her earlier testimony and rendered her evidence unreliable,” the court observed.
Six persons had been convicted of murder by a lower court for beating to death a man, who had objected to their teasing his sister in July 2009. The men had allegedly chased the youth from his Sultanpuri residence to a temple and beaten him with bats and rods.
The court, however, found that both the mother and sister of the man resiled from their statements during trial and other eyewitnesses also turned hostile after the trial court failed to examine the witnesses for a long time.
The examination of the mother, the main witness in the case, was not completed until 2011, even though the accused were granted interim bail during trial. The mother finally told the court she did not want the accused to be punished and “wanted to be left in peace”.
The sister of the man was also not examined by the court until February 2012, at which time she failed to correctly identify the weapons used against her brother.
The High Court has now directed that public witnesses, eyewitnesses in particular, should be examined at the earliest point in time once the witness action commences for all offences punishable with over seven years’ imprisonment.
The court also directed that trial courts will keep records of the status of the summoning of public witnesses and has specifically directed that trial courts will assess, along with the additional public prosecutor, whether the vulnerable witnesses are in need of police protection.
“Where a public witness appears not to be confident of deposing fearlessly, the trial judge will temporarily halt the recording of evidence, enquire into the reasons and ensure that a conducive atmosphere is created for the further recording of evidence,” the court said.
Further, the court directed trial courts to give short dates so that evidence of public witnesses is concluded within three months of the commencement of witness action. The High Court also directed that trial courts will have to record the reasons for the delay in examination of the witnesses in their orders.