Question: What are the circumstances under which a witness may be recalled for re-examination during trial of a criminal case? Can a witness be recalled for filling up the lacunae in the prosecution version? Are there any guidelines in this regard? What is the power of the court to recall a witness for his re-examination?
Answer: The power of a court to recall a witness and re-examine him during the trial of a criminal case is laid down in Section 311 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which is reproduced as under:
“311. Power to summon material witness, or examine person present.— Any Court may, at any stage of any inquiry, trial or other proceeding under this Code, summon any person as a witness, or examine any person in attendance, though not summoned as a witness, or recall and re-examine any person already examined; and the Court shall summon and examine or recall and re-examine any such person if his evidence appears to it to be essential to the just decision of the case.”
Even a cursory look at the above section shows that the court has a vast power to recall and re-examine a witness during the course of a trial or inquiry or other proceeding under the Criminal Procedure Code.
In a recent case, namely, Rajaram Prasad Yadav v. State of Bihar, (2013) 14 SCC 461 : 2013 Cri LJ 3777, the Supreme Court has highlighted as to how vast the power of the court is in this regard, by observing that:
“A conspicuous reading of Section 311 Cr.P.C. would show that widest of the powers have been invested with the courts when it comes to the question of summoning a witness or to recall or re-examine any witness already examined. A reading of the provision shows that the expression “any” has been used as a prefix to “court”, “inquiry”, “trial”, “other proceeding”, “person as a witness”, “person in attendance though not summoned as a witness”, and “person already examined”. By using the said expression “any” as a prefix to the various expressions mentioned above, it is ultimately stated that all that was required to be satisfied by the court was only in relation to such evidence that appears to the court to be essential for the just decision of the case. Section 138 of the Evidence Act, prescribed the order of examination of a witness in the court. The order of re-examination is also prescribed calling for such a witness so desired for such re-examination. Therefore, a reading of Section 311 Cr.P.C. and Section 138 Evidence Act, insofar as it comes to the question of a criminal trial, the order of re-examination at the desire of any person under Section 138, will have to necessarily be in consonance with the prescription contained in Section 311 Cr.P.C. It is, therefore, imperative that the invocation of Section 311 Cr.P.C. and its application in a particular case can be ordered by the court, only by bearing in mind the object and purport of the said provision, namely, for achieving a just decision of the case as noted by us earlier. The power vested under the said provision is made available to any court at any stage in any inquiry or trial or other proceeding initiated under the Code for the purpose of summoning any person as a witness or for examining any person in attendance, even though not summoned as witness or to recall or re-examine any person already examined. Insofar as recalling and re-examination of any person already examined is concerned, the court must necessarily consider and ensure that such recall and re-examination of any person, appears in the view of the court to be essential for the just decision of the case. Therefore, the paramount requirement is just decision and for that purpose the essentiality of a person to be recalled and re-examined has to be ascertained. To put it differently, while such a widest power is invested with the court, it is needless to state that exercise of such power should be made judicially and also with extreme care and caution.”
In the case of Mohanlal Shamji Soni v. Union of India, 1991 Supp (1) SCC 271, while dealing with Section 540 of the old Criminal Procedure Code (which is equivalent to Section 311 of the new Cr.P.C.) the Supreme Court held that in order to enable the court to find out the truth and render a just decision, the salutary provisions of Section 540 of the Code (Section 311 of the new Code) are enacted where-under any court by exercising its discretionary authority at any stage of enquiry, trial or other proceeding can summon any person as a witness or examine any person in attendance though not summoned as a witness or recall or re-examine any person in attendance though not summoned as a witness or recall and re-examine any person already examined who are expected to be able to throw light upon the matter in dispute; because if judgments happen to be rendered on inchoate, inconclusive and speculative presentation of facts, the ends of justice would be defeated.
In the case of Jamatraj Kewalji Govani v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1968 SC 178 : 1968 Cri LJ 231, the Supreme Court held that:
“It would appear that in our criminal jurisdiction, statutory law confers a power in absolute terms to be exercised at any stage of the trial to summon a witness or examine one present in court or to recall a witness already examined, and makes this the duty and obligation of the court provided the just decision of the case demands it. In other words, where the court exercises the power under the second part, the inquiry cannot be whether the accused has brought anything suddenly or unexpectedly but whether the court is right in thinking that the new evidence is needed by it for a just decision of the case. If the court has acted without the requirements of a just decision, the action is open to criticism but if the court’s action is supportable as being in aid of a just decision the action cannot be regarded as exceeding the jurisdiction.”
After considering various previous judgments, in the above case of Rajaram Prasad Yadav v. State of Bihar, a bench comprising of Justices T.S. Thakur and F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla of the Supreme Court held that while dealing with an application under Section 311 Cr.P.C. [read along with Section 138 of the Evidence Act], the following principles will have to be borne in mind by the courts:
(1) Whether the court is right in thinking that the new evidence is needed by it? Whether the evidence sought to be led in under Section 311 is noted by the court for a just decision of a case?
(2) The exercise of the widest discretionary power under Section 311 Cr.P.C. should ensure that the judgment should not be rendered on inchoate, inconclusive and speculative presentation of facts, as thereby the ends of justice would be defeated.
(3) If evidence of any witness appears to the court to be essential to the just decision of the case, it is the power of the court to summon and examine or recall and re-examine any such person.
(4) The exercise of power under Section 311 Cr.P.C. should be resorted to only with the object of finding out the truth or obtaining proper proof for such facts, which will lead to a just and correct decision of the case.
(5) The exercise of the said power cannot be dubbed as filling in a lacuna in a prosecution case, unless the facts and circumstances of the case make it apparent that the exercise of power by the court would result in causing serious prejudice to the accused, resulting in miscarriage of justice.
(6) The wide discretionary power should be exercised judiciously and not arbitrarily.
(7) The court must satisfy itself that it was in every respect essential to examine such a witness or to recall him for further examination in order to arrive at a just decision of the case.
(8) The object of Section 311 Cr.P.C. simultaneously imposes a duty on the court to determine the truth and to render a just decision.
(9) The court arrives at the conclusion that additional evidence is necessary, not because it would be impossible to pronounce the judgment without it, but because there would be a failure of justice without such evidence being considered.
(10) Exigency of the situation, fair play and good sense should be the safeguard, while exercising the discretion. The court should bear in mind that no party in a trial can be foreclosed from correcting errors and that if proper evidence was not adduced or a relevant material was not brought on record due to any inadvertence, the court should be magnanimous in permitting such mistakes to be rectified.
(11) The court should be conscious of the position that after all the trial is basically for the prisoners and the court should afford an opportunity to them in the fairest manner possible. In that parity of reasoning, it would be safe to err in favour of the accused getting an opportunity rather than protecting the prosecution against possible prejudice at the cost of the accused. The court should bear in mind that improper or capricious exercise of such a discretionary power, may lead to undesirable results.
(12) The additional evidence must not be received as a disguise or to change the nature of the case against any of the party.
(13) The power must be exercised keeping in mind that the evidence that is likely to be tendered, would be germane to the issue involved and also ensure that an opportunity of rebuttal is given to the other party.
(14) The power under Section 311 Cr.P.C. must therefore, be invoked by the court only in order to meet the ends of justice for strong and valid reasons and the same must be exercised with care, caution and circumspection. The court should bear in mind that fair trial entails the interest of the accused, the victim and the society and, therefore, the grant of fair and proper opportunities to the persons concerned, must be ensured being a constitutional goal, as well as a human right.
Therefore, it should be clear from the above that the power of the court to recall and re-examine a witness during a trial is quite wide, but this power is not to be exercised for filling up the lacunae in the prosecution case. Such witness should be recalled if it is necessary for a just decision of the case or to determine the truth. In your case (as it appears from your question), if you feel that a witness is being recalled to fill up the lacunae in the prosecution case, you may object to the same and refer to the above guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court.