Court cannot suggest for ‘alternative witness’ assuming original witness may not be readily available

Delhi High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of R.K. Gauba, J. directed partial retrial of a case while disposing of an appeal filed against the order of conviction and sentence awarded to the appellant by the trial court.

The appellant was alleged to have committed an offence of penetrative sexual assault on a ten-year-old child. He was sentenced and convicted by the trial court under Section 376(i)(2) IPC and Section of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. This was challenged by the appellant pleading that he was falsely implicated in the case and the charge against him was not proved.

The High Court perused the record and noted that a crucial witness in the case—- Dr Pallavi, the medical examiner who prepared MLC report of the victim– was not examined by the prosecution. It was noted that summons were sent for Dr Pallavi to appear in Court as a witness but in the summons, the court itself gave liberty to the hospital concerned to send some other doctor in place of Dr Pallavi in case she had left services of the hospital. Subsequently, some other doctor appeared before the court only for the purpose of proving Dr Pallavi’s handwriting and signature. As a matter of fact, there was no examination or cross-examination of the crucial witness. This course was not approved by the High Court as it may lead to a serious miscarriage of justice. It was held,

“No doubt, the prosecution may rely on the evidence of an alternative witness if the witness earlier cited has become unavailable or her presence cannot be secured without unreasonable delay. But the suggestion for alternative witness cannot come from the Court on assumption that the witness may not be readily available, not the least without an attempt being made to reach out to such witness.”

Consequently, the conviction and sentence awarded to the appellant was set aside and the case was remanded back to the trial court directing that Dr Pallavi shall be summoned for examination. [Santosh Kumar v. State, 2018 SCC OnLine Del 12727, decided on 19-11-2018]

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