Supreme Court bats for eye-witness testimony

Delay in recording statements no reason for rejection

October 19, 2021 10:19 pm | Updated 10:20 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

Delay on the part of terrified eye-witnesses to record their statements about crimes is not a ground for rejecting their testimonies, the Supreme Court has said in a judgment.

The case concerns the brutal murder of a fish-seller at Malda in West Bengal a decade ago. The accused were sentenced to life in prison. The Calcutta High Court confirmed their guilt in 2019. They, in turn, appealed the decision in the Supreme Court.

They argued that the case hinged on the testimonies of two eye-witnesses whose statements were recorded late and, thus, cannot be trusted. Their lawyer argued that there was no explanation on why they had delayed coming forward to give their statements. The delay was fatal to the case.

However, a three-judge Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit dismissed their appeal.

The court, instead, agreed with the submissions made by the State of West Bengal, represented by advocate Liz Mathew, that the accused had spread terror in the locality of the murder. They had systematically robbed fish-sellers of the area.

“The terror unleashed by the accused was of such magnitude that the witnesses had fled in fear. It was only after the appropriate steps were taken by the investigating machinery, including the arrest of the accused, that the witnesses came forward,” the court referred to the submissions made by Ms. Mathew for the State.

The court clarified that delay cannot be used to deny veracity to the testimony of the eye-witnesses if it could be adequately explained.

“The factum of delay by itself cannot result in rejection of their testimonies. The material on record definitely establishes the fear created by the accused. If the witnesses felt terrorised and frightened and did not come forward for some time, the delay in recording their statements stood adequately explained,” the court concluded.

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