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Right of accused to cross-examine witnesses cannot be diluted

Right of accused to cross-examine witnesses cannot be diluted

Santokh Singh and Anr Vs State of Punjab

Punjab and Haryana HC


CRR No.3485 of 2016

About/from the judgment:

The High Court recently recorded its disapproval of an Additional Sessions Judge's approach of denying an accused the opportunity to cross-examine certain witnesses.


Declaring that the action of the judge negated the "very basic and fundamental norms of a fair trial", the High Court ordered the recall of the witnesses so that the accused could cross-examine them.


A Court made these observations while hearing a revision petition by two accused in respect of a crime registered in February. The two were charged for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Indian Penal Code.


During the trial, the State had filed an application under Section 311 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to produce certain records relevant to the case. While allowing the State's application in September 2014, the Additional Sessions Judge noted that the accused would not be prejudiced by the additional documents as they would be given full opportunity to rebut the record.


However, the record was taken on file without recalling the relevant witnesses for a cross-examination by the accused.


The accused then filed an application to recall a DSP and two others. The matter was listed before another Additional Sessions Judge, who disallowed the plea in May 2016, observing that the accused had failed to demonstrate a ground for further cross-examination. If they so desired, they could summon the witnesses when the defence evidence was led, the new judge noted in his order. The earlier note by the previous Additional Sessions Judge was not considered.


Aggrieved by this order, the petitioners filed the present revision petition before the High Court. In an order passed in September 2016, the High Court noted that the opportunity of cross-examination and to avail the benefit granted by the 2014 order could not have been snatched away by directing the petitioners to lead defence evidence. The trial court was also directed not to pass an final order in the matter.


Pointing to these facts in his order, Court Justice said:


"Surprisingly, the Additional Sessions Judge seems to have completely overlooked the earlier order dated September 15, 2014, passed by his predecessor and dismissed the application on the ground that the petitioners could lead defence evidence and examine any official from the department concerned."


Noting that the next date of hearing before the trial court was October 21, and that the matter was still at the stage of examination of witnesses, the High Court held,


"Denial of the petitioners' right of cross-examination cannot be countenanced. It is a valuable right given to the accused and such right cannot be diluted in this fashion. As pointed out by this Court in the interim order, the approach adopted by the learned Additional Sessions Judge negated the very basic and fundamental norms of a fair trial."


On these terms, the trial court judge was directed to recall the witnesses the accused had wanted to cross-examine.

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