Witness has no right to abstain from proceedings: HC

CHENNAI JUNE 26. Witnesses in a case, particularly in a defamation case, have no right to abstain from appearing in court and giving evidence, the Madras High Court has ruled.

Justice A. Packiaraj passed the order dismissing a revision petition filed by two railway officials challenging a magistrate court order declining to dispense with their presence in court as witnesses in connection with a defamation case. Arraigned as witnesses by the complainant, the officials apparently did not want to appear in court and tender evidence.

Counsel for the Railways, V.J. Kumaravel, contended that the witnesses had every right to abstain from the proceedings, and said, "As per Section 200(A) of the CrPC, the magistrate, taking the complaint on oath, need not examine the complainant and the witnesses, if the complaint is made in writing and if he is a public servant acting or purporting to act in discharge of official duties".

The officials — Vijayalakshmi Viswanathan, Financial Commissioner and Ex-Officio Secretary to the Government of India, and R. Stephen Raj, Senior District Signal and Telecommunication Engineer, Chennai, — acted in their official capacity when they forwarded a `defamatory letter' and hence need not be examined, he submitted.

Declining to accept the contention, Mr. Justice Packiaraj said, "As far as the stage of adducing evidence is concerned, to establish the guilt or otherwise of the accused, it is mandatory on the part of the prosecution to examine the witnesses to disclose the offence. That apart, in a defamation case, evidence of publication is absolutely necessary. Hence the complainant has included the petitioner-officials as witnesses as the letters have been addressed to them by the accused". The judge cited Section 132 of the Evidence Act and said a witness should not be excused from answering any question on any matter relevant to the issue in any suit or in any civil or criminal proceeding.

On the witnesses' right to decline from appearing before the court, inspite of having received summons, Mr. Justice Packiaraj said a witness had to necessarily obey the summons. If the witness did not turn up or concealed himself to avoid the service of a warrant, the magistrate could make a proclamation requiring attendance of the witness or issue an order of attachment to compel his attendance "They do not have a right to get their attendance dispensed with", the judge ruled, and upheld the impugned order of the V Judicial Magistrate, Madurai.

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