1. The present applicants are the three accused who are standing their trial for offences punishable under Section 394 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code in the Court of Judicial Magistrate, First Class (8th Court) Nagpur.
2. The prosecution allegations appear to be that about 9.30 P. M. in the night of January 9, 1973, the accused subjected one Miss Saroj Khaperde, while she was in the company of one Mr. Wasnik, to robbery by taking away her golden ornaments and one currency note. In the charge-sheet against the accused filed in court by the prosecution, it is said that these two persons, i.e. Miss Khaperde and Mr. Wasnik, were occupants of Car No. MRH 4950, which was negotiating the road Amravati Octroi Naka towards Ambazari Garden, and near a bridge, that car was stopped and robbery effected at that hour of the night.
3. The prosecution thus mainly relies on the evidence of these two occupants of the car. From the statement of Miss Khaperde, who was examined-in-chief, it appears, she had stated in court that she had gone on that day in the evening to the Hingana Industrial Estate to her plot and was returning along with the other occupant of the car, Mr. Wasnik, while it was night. She had also spoken about her other movements, including taking tea at nearby place and had disclosed some reason as to why they were going particularly by that road, in that she wanted to catch the Air Flight so as to fly to Delhi.
4. While she was under cross* examination, questions were asked to her as to where she normally resides and she was also contradicted with some statements made by her before the police with respect to her movements, i.e. going to Defence Factory. She was also asked about the distance between the Defence Project and the Hingana Industrial Estate. She was asked about her association with Mr. Wasnik and the interest of Mr. Wasnik in her works.
5. At this stage, it appears that the accused gave written instructions to the counsel cross-examining the said witness to ask questions about her intimate relations with the other occupant of the car, i. e. Mr. Wasnik, On the very same basis, it appears that the counsel filed an application, Exh. 34, and formulated his questions which involve illicit relationship between the witness and the other occupant, Mr. Wasnik.
6. The learned Magistrate sought objections from the prosecution counsel and made an order that the question, which the defence counsel wanted to put, pertains to the private life of the witness and has no concern with the story as advanced by the prosecution. Moreover, the questions which the counsel wanted to put to the witness according to the learned Magistrate, is not relevant to the point at issue and, therefore, he did not think that it is a relevant question under Section 146 of the Indian Evidence Act. The learned Magistrate further accepted the argument for the prosecution that the question should be treated as indecent and, therefore, was being asked with a view to insult and annoy the witness. He, therefore, invoked the provisions of Section 151 of the Evidence Act and finally concluded that the question was irrelevant and did not concern the point at issue and, therefore, rejected the same. When the matter went before the Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur, the learned Judge referred to the allegations of the complainant against the accused and observed:. The question could only have been allowed if it was relevant to the matter proper, which was to be enquired into. As I pointed out above, the charge which the accused persons are facing is in regard to the alleged robbery committed by them and consequently a question of the type which the accused desired to put to the witness, in my view, was wholly irrelevant.
Thus the view taken by the learned trial Judge was approved by the Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur on the ground of relevancy.
7. It appears from the record that none of the Courts below have tried to ascertain from the counsel who put these questions as to the relevancy for the purposes of defence of the accused and have proceeded to determine the matter opining that the question was irrelevant from the point of view of the prosecution case. When the provisions of the Evidence Act speak of relevancy of a fact, it may have bearing both on prosecution and defence versions of the incident and may affect a proposition (sic) (prosecution?) and help the opposition. It was, therefore, primary duty of the court before rejecting such a question to be satisfied whether such a question was relevant or not from the point of view of the defence. That has not been done, and on this sole ground, the order made by the trial Judge as also of Additional Sessions Judge is liable to be set aside.
8. I may, as this involves a basic question of the right of a defending party, review the provisions of law which a Magistrate is bound to keep in mind while making an order against asking such questions, for such forbidding may have far-reaching effects.
9. Under the scheme of the Indian Evidence Act, Chapter X deals with examination of witnesses and Section 137 gives a statutory right to the adverse party to cross-examine a witness examined-in-chief. Section 138 gives the order of examination of witnesses. After defining what is a leading question in Section 141, law permits such questions to be put while the witness is under the cross-examination. Section 146 indicates the lawful ambit and scope of such cross-examination inter alia, by pointing out that questions which test the veracity of a witness or which tend to discover who he is and what is his position in life, or which go to shake his credit by injuring his character, although the answer to such question might tend directly or indirectly to criminate him or might expose or tend directly or indirectly to expose him to a penalty or forfeiture, are within permissible precincts of that provision. Section 148 gives discretion to a Court to decide certain matters, as to whether or not a witness should be subjected compulsorily to answer, or whether, in its discretion, may proceed to warn the witness that he is not obliged to answer the question. The provisions of Section 148 open up by a qualifying clause that when such a question relates to a matter not relevant to a suit or proceeding, then the Court has discretion to decide as is indicated by the section itself. It follows, therefore, that once a question, which is not relevant is put, the matter is within the discretion of the Court and it has to decide whether the witness has to be compelled to answer such a question or whether a warning should ensue that the witness is not obliged to answer the same. The decision of the Court must reach either of these two results. While exercising the discretion in this regard what matters should be taken into account are enumerated in Clauses (1) to (4) of Section 148 and one of them is that such questions are proper if the same are of such a nature that the truth of the imputation conveyed by them would seriously affect the opinion of the Court as to the credibility of the witness on the matter to which he testifies.
10. Section 149 is a warning signal to the person putting the question and indicates ensuing liability. It also further points out how to work out the right of a cross-examination in such matters. It expressly states that, unless there are reasonable grounds for thinking that the imputation which is conveyed by these questions is well founded, questions should not be asked. Illustrations appended to the section lucidly illustrate the purpose of the provisions of Section 149. Section 150 is the penalty that may ensue against a reckless cross-examination if the Court was of the opinion that the questions were asked without reasonable grounds.
11. Section 151 gives power to the court to forbid questions on the ground that those are indecent or scandalous, subject, however to the exception that they relate to the facts in issue, or to matters necessary to be known in order to determine whether or not the facts in issue existed. In other words, indecent and scandalous questions can be put if they directly relate to the facts in issue and also if it is necessary to be known in order to determine whether or not the facts in issue existed. It has to be pointed out, therefore, that these exceptions are vital, and if in any given case the Court is satisfied that even an indecent or scandalous question may have a bearing upon a fact in issue, the same cannot be forbidden. If a question is merely intended to insult or annoy and is offensive in form, the court has power to forbid the same as is clear from Section 152.
12. Thus all this scheme has to be worked out within the limits of cross-examination primarily indicated by Section 146 of the Act. In certain matters the Court has to decide whether the witness should be compelled to answer or whether he should be warned that he is not obliged to answer. The liability of the person asking the question is indicated by Sections 149 and 150. The power to forbid asking of such questions is referable to Sections 151 and 152. After mapping out this scheme, the legislature has enacted Section 155 which deals with impeaching credit of witnesses and also speaks of modes how the same has to be done. Such credit can be impeached by the adverse party so also by the party who calls the witness with the leave of the court and amongst others, if permitted, by tendering evidence of persons to testify that the witness was believed by them to be unworthy of credit, or by tendering proof that the witness was bribed or had the offer of bribe or had received any other inducement to give evidence, or by proof of former statements inconsistent with any part of the evidence given by him. and in case of a prosecutrix, by leading evidence of her immoral character. These provisions do in fact illustrate that the law permits, as a reasonable mode of defence, to put before the Court even further evidence so as to discredit a particular witness. Along with this the provisions of Section 146 permit questions which tend to shake the credit of a witness by injuring his character. Both these provisions will have to be considered together while deciding such matters.
13. The legislative intent has to be primarily found from the language employed in the enacting statute. The word 'credit' used in Section 146 is of a wide and varied connotation and has to be distinguished from the word 'character', though the latter may include the former. 'Credit' would take in belief, estimate of reputation, however, good character, and 'creditable' so construed would mean, honourable or trustworthy. The 'character' envisages a moral or ethical qualities of a person as a social being. Thus it is plain that the provisions of Section 146 (3) permit a cross-examiner to put questions which will not only shake the credit of a witness, but which will also expose his ethical and moral behaviour which may ultimately weigh with the Court while evaluating or appreciating testimonial evidence. By its very nature questions on mala fides as opposed to bona fides, immorality as opposed to good morality, dishonesty as against honesty, falsehoods as against truthfulness, can all conceivably be put, provided there is necessity and foundation for the same. For further (sic) Section 155 expressly permits by indicating a mode and manner to bring in evidence upon the credit of a witness so as to impeach such testimony. Mere exercise by the media indicated by Section 155, without asking questions permissible under Section 146, may in a given case loose all its effectiveness and would be futile. What could therefore be brought before the Court under Section 155 can surely be put to the witness -may, must be put while he is giving evidence in a cause. Looking to this interwoven scheme of statutory provisions, it is plain that under the Indian law, 'credit' including 'the character' of a witness, is a relevant factor to be taken into account by every Court administering justice. However such being the amplitude, of necessity, limitations may arise because of the issues that may be involved in a particular given controversy and further the questions being merely asked to insult or annoy a witness or the question is by itself indecent or scandalous. In such offensive only the Court is empowered to protect the witness by the manner indicated by Section 148, Section 150 or even putting an embargo under Section 151 or 152 of the Act, Till conditions of these provisions are not satisfied the matter is at large and witness must stand all the test before his word can be raised to pedestal of the proof,
14. There are basic and good reasons for such an approach. Statutory provisions mentioned above unfold a vista upon which the search for truth between man and man in the portals of Courts is to be carried on. Evidence is a mere means and modality in this sublime quest and Statute floodlights the neat path of this pilgrimage. Surely, for a Court charged with a duty to administer law and do justice to the human causes, making a record of evidence must mean a serious and profound task wherein all the interests must be properly balanced and the methodology evolved and clearly emanating allowed to have its due play. Statute of Evidence as operating on this lucid and live part of the Trial or the case when witnesses are tendered in evidence, evinces both its high principle, policy and juristic philosophy. Rights of parties having settled, proper protection is provided to those who are called to prove. Such persons coming forward to testify may include those who have no interests at all in the result of the cause. All effort therefore requires to be bestowed to see that these statutory intendments are not rendered infirm either by casualness or carelessness or even by overtones or undue emphasis on particular aspects of the matter alone. What may ultimately look effortless does in reality require taking all infinite pains.
15. Judicial decision on a point like the present one should of necessity demonstrably be capable of indicating that discretion was used and guided so as to subserve rather than to erode the interests of justice. It calls for no emphasis to observe that Law is no respecter of man though it is a living instrument to achieve individual and social good and morality. Status however high, therefore, cannot be used or held as a shield to cover the core of the cause of reality of a truth. In the high temples of justice all the basic bones must be felt bare and attempt to reach them should not in any manner be stifled.
16. The modality of having Truth so as to satisfy the conscience of the Court in its search, permits persons to testify. What falls from these frail lips take the form of a truthful record of events. A person who takes the stand begins with undoubted advantage, as there is very presumption that he is telling the truth, that he is trustworthy and further that he is actuated by bona fides; law allows his narration to form part of the record as it falls from him and without interference even by the party calling to lead him. While under 'examination-in-chief' he cannot even be subjected to contradiction unless permitted by the Court on good grounds. This forms part of a thesis as it were in search of Truth unfolding the relevant facts or facets of the case or of the matters in issue. The initial presumptions underlying help to give it a form and shape subject to the right of the adversary to demolish and destroy. The premises so reached, thereafter, must stand the test of scrutiny. Every basic presumption must be verifiable and rebuttable. Law confers therefore express right on the adversary to put all these presumptions in issue and challenge the same by putting leading questions and allows questioning which may elicit answers and may explode the myth built-in by the earlier thesis. Such a successful attempt may be viewed as an antithesis in a trial, and to achieve the same 'cross-examination' provides a dynamic stage in the drama.
17. No doubt cross-examination is a deft and delicate art and to be effective must evince all sense of decorum, decency and profound responsibility. Unfounded, scandalous attacks do not legitimately form part of such a right, It must be understood that though it is a powerful and sharp instrument by which the cross-examiner can rip open the cloak to bring out the shining core of a case, it can by its recoil damage the very cause of the cross-examiner. Undue restraint on wrong assumptions therefore, is likely to blunt its edge and may render a salutary right completely nugatory. The freedom indicated and with purpose defined in Section 146 of the Act the same should not be unduly curtailed except upon clear indications contemplated by the other provisions mentioned heretobefore. Thesis put up must pass through this test at the stage of an antithesis so that Court can construct a synthesis capable of handing out a judgment.
18. A very lucid controversy has been noted by Wigmore on Evidence (Third Edition) as to the contemplation upon the moral character with regard to 'Testimonial impeachment.' The learned author in extenso deals with such types of permissible impeachment in a Court of law and points out in paragraph 922 as follows:
From the point of view of modern psychology the moral disposition which tends for or against falsehood is an elusive quality.
He further says that 'the common law's reliance on character as an index of falsehood is crude and childish', and further while considering the impact of an approach based on morality observes:.. Since the argument is to be against or for the probability of his now telling the truth upon the stand, it is obvious that the quality or tendency which will here aid is his quality or tendency as to truth-telling in general, i. e. his veracity or, as more commonly and more loosely put, his character for truth .... Character for truth is always and everywhere admissible.
After indicating the modern trends, the learned author notes:. Attacking a witness character is often but a feeble and ineffective contribution to the proof of the issue; and its drawbacks appear in their most emphasised form where the broader method of attack is allowed. The modern spirit tends to confine this mode of attack to its narrowest limits; and in the minority of jurisdictions which permit the broader method, the annals of trials give the reader an unedifying impression of the unprofitable nature of such evidence.
This statement of law clearly shows the caution and the limited use injuring the ethical character of a witness can have in a trial where the word of a witness may become decisive of proof.
19. We are not left to any such general notions about these matters and law as is indicated earlier by its own scheme has evolved a precise modality permitting a well-founded attack on the veracity, credit and character of a witness subject to the provisions of Sections 148, 151 and 152 of the Evidence Act.
20. In In the matter of Vakil ILR (1925) 47 All 729 : (1925) 26 Cri LJ 1091 the Full Bench of Allahabad High Court has indicated what is an abuse of the right of cross-examination and also indicated the duty of the counsel in that regard. In Subola Pari v. Indra Kumar Hazara AIR 1923 Cal 315 a question affecting the moral character having imputation of unchastity was held to be relevant because of the controversy between the parties relating to inheritance of the property. It was further observed that if such a question is asked for impeaching the credit of the witness, the Court will have to consider the provisions of Sections 146 and 148 to 152 of the Evidence Act. The learned Single Judge of the Mysore High Court in Deepchand v. Sampathraj has observed that provisions of Section 146 (3) of the Evidence Act permitted a question which will injure the character of a witness and has further considered on its basis the liability of the cross-examining counsel in such matters. The learned Judge observed with reference to Section 146 as follows:. Thus, it would be seen that it is perfectly open to a lawyer to put questions to a witness in cross-examination in order .... to shake his credit by injuring his character and the mere fact that the answer to such question may directly or indirectly tend to criminate the witness is no justification to refuse to answer such questions.
A Division Bench of the Madras High Court in In re G. Vasantha Pai AIR 1960 Mad 73 has pointed out that an advocate in the discharge of his duties to his client must not be hampered by any fear of offending the opposite party or any witness, and in the wake of such a duty it is further pointed out that questions will have to be asked which may not be fit for the drawing-room or which may appear to be scandalous but 'what is relevant cannot be scandalous'. These are enough illustrations to indicate that every matter has to be viewed from a larger and all-round perspective. By merely putting out the question on the ground of relevancy in a given case, may disserve the cause of justice.
21. Here was a witness who had given out in her examination-in-chief certain movements right from the evening till the time of occurrence in the night and also had disclosed some purpose for moving towards that spot. It could not have been, therefore, said that the questions which may raise doubt about the veracity of such witness were completely irrelevant. Similarly, the Court could have taken the counsel for defence in confidence for understanding the relevance from defence point of view before deciding whether the question was at all relevant for the ultimate decision of the trial, i.e. whether it could have bearing from the point of view of the defence. That has not been done. In fact, as soon as the question was asked, it appears, the Court felt that it was a question challenging morality or ethical values of the witness and on that short ground felt inclined to reject the same and added to it that it was not relevant from the prosecution point of view. Unless there was clear indication showing that it was a reckless and scandalous attempt which was intended to insult or annoy, the topic raised by the question could not have been ruled out. We must learn the lesson to tolerate the truth, if there may be any, even in its ugliest form. Involvement of the witness with the other witness who was to follow in all its aspects cannot be termed as out of the purview of the provisions of Section 146 of the Act. Such involvement may lead to several and varied inferences including impeaching the credit and affecting character. That may indicate personal interests or may expose situations from where the persons wanted to escape. All these were legitimately within the ken of the cross-examination and present forbidding of the questions cannot be sanctioned. To put such an embargo only on the ground of relevancy from the prosecution point of view was hardly the way to dispose of the prayer made by the cross-examining party.
22. In the result, therefore, the impugned orders will have to be set aside with further directions to the Magistrate, who is trying the present accused to reconsider the matter afresh. I have indicated in extenso some of the principles on which the Court can forbid by taking an exception to such questions in the light of the rights of the party entitled to cross-examine a witness engrafted in Section 146 of the Evidence Act.
23. Now the learned Magistrate will take into account after hearing the counsel for the accused all the matters including as may be indicated to him, the line of defence, and then decide afresh whether such questions should be allowed or not to be put to the concerned witness and whether really they fall within the exceptions carved out by the statute.
24. There would be liberty to the counsel for the accused to make a proper and detailed application indicating the topics and even questions on which the accused wishes to cross-examine the witness on the stand though he cannot be asked to disclose the defence at this stage.
25. It is also expected that the trial of the accused would be held as expeditiously as possible as the matter appears to be pending for quite long.
26. In the sum, the revision is allowed, the orders made by the learned Magistrate as well by the Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur, are set aside and the matter remitted back to the Magistrate for proceedings afresh in accordance with the observations made hereinabove.