What is value of evidence of a hostile witness – is it...

What is value of evidence of a hostile witness – is it required to discarded completely?

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I am the complainant in a criminal case and trial is going on in a court on the basis of my complaint. Two of the important witnesses produced by the prosecution have turned hostile and they were declared as “hostile witnesses” by the public prosecutor and were cross-examined by him. However, in some parts of their evidence, they have supported my complaint. I am told that since these two witnesses have turned hostile, their evidence will be completely discarded by the trial court. Is it correct? What will the value of the evidence of these hostile witnesses?

Answer: It is not correct to say that the whole evidence of a hostile witness is discarded by the court. It all depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

In this regard, it is pertinent to point out that in the case of Mrinal Das v. State of Tripura, (2011) 9 SCC 479, at page 505, Supreme Court has held as under:

67. It is settled law that corroborated part of evidence of hostile witness regarding commission of offence is admissible. The fact that the witness was declared hostile at the instance of the Public Prosecutor and he was allowed to cross-examine the witness furnishes no justification for rejecting en bloc the evidence of the witness. However, the court has to be very careful, as prima facie, a witness who makes different statements at different times, has no regard for the truth. His evidence has to be read and considered as a whole with a view to find out whether any weight should be attached to it. The court should be slow to act on the testimony of such a witness, normally, it should look for corroboration with other witnesses. Merely because a witness deviates from his statement made in the FIR, his evidence cannot be held to be totally unreliable. To make it clear that evidence of hostile witness can be relied upon at least up to the extent, he supported the case of the prosecution. The evidence of a person does not become effaced from the record merely because he has turned hostile and his deposition must be examined more cautiously to find out as to what extent he has supported the case of the prosecution.”

In the case of State of U.P. v. Ramesh Prasad Misra, (1996) 10 SCC 360, it was held by the Supreme Court that:

“It is equally settled law that the evidence of a hostile witness would not be totally rejected if spoken in favour of the prosecution or the accused, but it can be subjected to close scrutiny and that portion of the evidence which is consistent with the case of the prosecution or defence may be accepted.”

In the case of C. Muniappan v. State of T.N., (2010) 9 SCC 567, the Supreme Court has similarly held that the evidence of a hostile witness cannot be discarded as a whole, and relevant parts thereof which are admissible in law, can be used by the prosecution or the defence.

There are various other similar decisions of the Supreme Court laying down the same legal proposition that the evidence of the hostile witness cannot be rejected merely because he has been declared hostile, and that the evidence of such a person does not become effaced from the record. The relevant portions of the evidence of a hostile witness can still be made use of in appropriate situations, at least to corroborate the evidence of other independent witnesses in material particulars. Of course, as held by the Supreme Court, evidence of a hostile witness has to be considered with caution. But, at the same time, his evidence can be relied upon in certain circumstances as mentioned in the above (and other) judgments.

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