HC questions prosecution of hostile witnesses in Jessica case

"How will the case of the prosecution move? The incidents of witnesses turning hostile and doctored evidence have become endemic now. Somebody fears for his life, someone gets tempted and someone does not support (the prosecution) for obvious reasons. Should we go ahead and prosecute all of them?" a bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and G P Mittal said.

The bench sought the assistance of the public prosecutor on the issue saying "is that (prosecution of such witnesses) a solution? Ultimately, he will have to face the music." "We will have to take a call as to what is the purpose of having a trial," the court said, adding such kind of prosecution may deter persons from coming forward and record their statements to the police.

The court's remarks came while hearing a bunch of petitions against witnesses who did not support the police version which led to acquittal of Siddharth Vashist alias Manu Sharma and eight others in the sensational case.

The case dates back to April 1999 when Lall was shot dead by Manu Sharma after she refused to serve drink to him at a party at socialite Bina Ramani's restaurant Tamarind Court here in South Delhi.

The High Court, which reversed trial court's verdict on December 18, 2006, and awarded life imprisonment to Manu Sharma, later issued notices to the witnesses, asking why they be not prosecuted for the offence of perjury.

Later, ten witnesses were absolved of the charges. The court today heard arguments on behalf of 12 public witnesses, including some employees of Manu Sharma who pleaded that they be not prosecuted for the alleged offence.

The court then posted the matter on March 29 for advancing of arguments by remaining six persons who have been issued perjury notice by it.

Earlier, Bollywood actor Shyan Munshi, who had lodged the FIR, pleaded the court not to prosecute him saying "he cannot be termed hostile as even the apex court had used part of his deposition in convicting the accused."

Munshi, the complainant in the case, disowned the complaint saying he did not know Hindi. The prosecutor pleaded before the court to refer to 19 out of the 31 hostile witnesses, including Munshi, to the magisterial court for their trial on charges of perjury.

The prosecutor had pointed out that out of total 31 witnesses, now only 19 were available for trial as three are dead while the court had discharged 10 of them on the ground that there was no major deviation between their statements to the police and later to the court.

The 19 persons, who were facing court proceeding for turning hostile in the case included socialite Andleeb Sehgal, ballistic experts Roop Singh and Prem Sagar, electrician Shiv Shankar Dass and eyewitness Jagannath Jha.

The apex court, while upholding the high court's ruling in Jessica Lall murder case last April, had also endorsed its findings on the issue of perjury.

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