A 3-judge bench of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi has held that delay in recording the statements of eye-witnesses, on account of fear created by the accused, cannot result in rejection of their testimonies.
While upholding the conviction of 5 goons who killed a fish-seller, the Court held,
“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.”
Criminal appeals were preferred by the accused challenging the common judgment and order dated passed by the High Court of Judicature at Calcutta dismissing the appeals preferred by them and confirming their conviction and sentence recorded by the Sessions Judge, Malda.
The appellants were dangerous and desperate men who terrorised the fish traders in the locality who accosted a fish-seller in front of R.S.P. party office and assaulted him on his neck and shoulder with sharp cutting weapons and shot at him after he had informed the police station and the local traders’ association about the accused looting him.
Advocate Raj Kumar Gupta, appearing for the appellants invited the Court’s attention to the testimonies of two eye witnesses, and submitted that the delay in recording their statements under Sections 161 and 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 respectively would be fatal to the case of the prosecution.
It was further submitted that no explanation was forthcoming why there was delay in recording their statements.
Gupta added that apart from the testimonies of said two witnesses, there was nothing on record to justify the conviction of the appellants.
Advocate Liz Mathew, appearing for the State argued that the terror unleashed by the accused was of such magnitude that the concerned witnesses had fled away in fear and that it was only after the appropriate steps were taken by the investigating machinery including the arrest of the accused that the witnesses came forward.
In light of the submissions made before it, the Court held that although it was true that there was some delay in recording the statements of the concerned eye-witnesses, but mere factum of delay by itself could not result in rejection of their testimonies.
The bench further found that nothing was brought on record to suggest that during the interregnum, the witnesses were carrying on their ordinary pursuits. It went on to remark,
“Thus, the eye-witness account unfolded through PW18 and PW19 cannot be discarded. We have gone through their testimonies and are convinced that their statements were cogent, consistent and trustworthy.”
Affirming the view taken by the Trial Court and the High Court, the top court dismissed the appeals.
Cause Title: GOUTAM JOARDAR v. STATE OF WEST BENGAL
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