Summon of witnesses in Criminal Trial: Powers of Court

Power to summon material witness, or examine person present.

Section 311 of Criminal Procedure Code provides as under:

Any Court may, at any stage of any inquiry, trial or other proceeding under this Code, summon any person as a witness, or examine any person in attendance, though not summoned as a witness, or. recall and re- examine any person already examined; and the Court shall summon and examine or recall and re- examine any such person if his evidence appears to it to be essential to the just decision of the case.

While considering the scope and ambit of Section 311, that the very usage of the word such as, “any Court” “at any stage”, or “any enquiry or trial or other proceedings” “any person” and “any such person” clearly spells out that the Section has expressed in the widest possible terms and do not limit the discretion of the Court in any way. However, as noted above, the very width requires a corresponding caution that the discretionary powers should be invoked as the exigencies of justice require and exercised judicially with circumspection and consistently with the provisions of the Code. The second part of the section does not allow any discretion but obligates and binds the Court to take necessary steps if the fresh evidence to be obtained is essential to the just decision of the case – ‘essential’, to an active and alert mind and not to one which is bent to abandon or abdicate. Object of the Section is to enable the court to arrive at the truth irrespective of the fact that the prosecution or the defence has failed to produce some evidence which is necessary for a just and proper disposal of the case. The power is exercised and the evidence is examined neither to help the prosecution nor the defence, if the Court feels that there is necessity to act in terms of Section 311 but only to subserve the cause of justice and public interest. It is done with an object of getting the evidence in aid of a just decision and to upheld the truth.

It is not that in every case where the witness who had given evidence before Court wants to change his mind and is prepared to speak differently, that the Court concerned should readily accede to such request by lending its assistance. If the witness who deposed one way earlier comes before the appellate Court with a prayer that he is prepared to give evidence which is materially different from what he has given earlier at the trial with the reasons for the earlier lapse, the Court can consider the genuineness of the prayer in the context as to whether the party concerned had a fair opportunity to speak the truth earlier and in an appropriate case accept it. It is not that the power is to be exercised in a routine manner, but being an exception to the ordinary rule of disposal of appeal on the basis of records received in exceptional cases or extraordinary situation the Court can neither feel powerless nor abdicate its duty to arrive at the truth and satisfy the ends of justice. The Court can certainly be guided by the metaphor, separate the grain from the chaff, and in a case which has telltale imprint of reasonableness and genuineness in the prayer, the same has to be accepted, at least to consider the worth, credibility and the acceptability of the same on merits of the material sought to be brought in.

Ultimately, as noted above, ad nauseam the duty of the Court is to arrive at the truth and subserve the ends of justice. Section 311 of the Code does not confer any party any right to examine, cross-examine and re-examine any witness. This is a power given to the Court not to be merely exercised at the bidding of any one party/person but the powers conferred and discretion vested are to prevent any irretrievable or immeasurable damage to the cause of society, public interest and miscarriage of justice. Recourse may be had by Courts to power under this section only for the purpose of discovering relevant facts or obtaining proper proof of such facts as are necessary to arrive at a justice decision in the case.

[Source:Sidharth Vashishth @ Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi),AIR 2010 SC 2352.]
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