Witnesses turning hostile disturbing trend: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has expressed concern over the recent trend of witnesses turning hostile in high profile cases, saying this "major disturbing" factor faced by courts is eroding people`s faith in the judicial system.

"Witness turning hostile is a major disturbing factor faced by the criminal courts in India. Reasons are many for the witnesses turning hostile, but of late, we see, especially in high profile cases, there is a regularity in the witnesses turning hostile, either due to monetary consideration or by other tempting offers which undermine the entire criminal justice system and people carry the impression that the mighty and powerful can always get away from the clutches of law thereby, eroding people`s faith in the system," Justice S Radhakrishnan said.

The court`s remark came while passing its verdict in the infamous BMW hit-and-run case, convicting 34-year-old Sanjeev Nanda under the stringent provision of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for mowing down six people, including three policemen, with his car in south Delhi in 1999.

In this case three key prosecution witnesses including the injured witness, who was present on the spot, turned hostile.

Justice S Radhakrishnan said that courts should not remain as a mute spectator when witnesses turn hostile and every effort should be made to bring home the truth.

"Courts, however, cannot shut their eyes to the reality. If a witness becomes hostile to subvert the judicial process, the courts shall not stand as a mute spectator and every effort should be made to bring home the truth. Criminal judicial system cannot be overturned by those gullible witnesses who act under pressure, inducement or intimidation. Further, Section 193 of the IPC imposes punishment for giving false evidence but is seldom invoked," the court said.

The apex court had yesterday refused to enhance the two- year jail term, already served by Nanda, but had convicted him under the stringent provision of 304 Part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of IPC, which prescribes maximum punishment of 10 years.

It had partially set aside the Delhi high court`s order, which had held Nanda guilty under lenient provision of 304 A of the IPC for rash and negligent driving, but had upheld the two-year jail term that was awarded to him.