Karnataka takes tech route to arrest a hostile problem

Eyewitness statements will be recorded on video in Karnataka.

In a big boost to criminal justice reform in Karnataka, eyewitness statements will be recorded on video to put an end to the trend of prosecution losing cases on account of witnesses turning hostile.

The existing procedure, under which a written statement is recorded in front of a magistrate, has not been of help to the prosecution, as witnesses remain absent or turn hostile during the trial.

The Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG&IGP) has sent a proposal to the legal department to implement the new procedure, said to be a first in the country, under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), where witness statement is recorded on video.

The audio-enabled video file, along with the written statement, will come in handy even when an eyewitness doesn't turn up for hearing.

The digital statements will be submitted before the court during the trial and the eyewitnesses will be examined by the prosecution. In case the witness is absent, the investigation officer has to submit a reason for the same. Further, the high courts may issue appropriate directions to the trial courts for compliance of the above.

The prosecution has lost as many as 86,187 cases in trial courts alone between January 2015 and June 2019. Officials said witnesses remaining absent or turning hostile were the main reasons for the acquittal of the accused in most of the cases. 

Sources said the new procedure is being implemented as per the Supreme Court order in a 2015 case between Dungar Singh and others Vs State of Rajasthan.

In its directive to the states, the apex court had observed that the statements of eyewitnesses under Section 164 of CrPC should be recorded by audio-video electronic means.

Officials said a circular will be issued to all police commissioners and police superintendents of the state to implement the new procedure, highly placed sources in the home department told DH.

This change of procedure will be implemented very shortly after clearance given by the legal department under section 164 of CrPC.

H R Renuka, former director, Department of Prosecution, said the new procedure will arrest the problem of witnesses turning hostile during trials. "The percentage of acquittals will decrease automatically," she said.

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