Can’t defer witness deposition at accused’s request: SC

New Delhi, Nov 7: The Supreme Court has ruled against deferring witness deposition in a criminal case at the mere request of an accused and said courts of law had a duty to protect both the right of an accused for fair trial and the prosecution’s endeavour to prove its case. It also laid down a nine-point guideline for courts for conduct of criminal trials.
Reversing a Kerala high court decision quashing a sessions court verdict against murder accused and Youth Congress leader Rasheed, an SC bench of Justices A M Sapre and Indu Malhotra said “a balance must be struck between the rights of the accused and the prerogative of the prosecution to lead evidence”.
During trial of the case relating to murder of one Satheesan in Thrissur, Rasheed had sought adjournment of cross-examination (interrogation by opposite party) of a witness, Narayanan, till the examination-in-chief (examination by the party which has cited him/her as a witness to elicit evidence in his favour) of other witnesses. The sessions judge refused and said the accused were “highly influential political leaders” and there was a possibility of threats to witnesses after their examination-in-chief. The HC had reversed this order and deferred Narayanan’s cross-examination.
Setting aside the HC order and disallowing deferment of deposition by Narayanan, the bench said though discretion has been conferred on trial judges to grant deferment of deposition or examination of a witness, the same has to be exercised in exceptional circumstances and when the accused put forth a “very strong ground”.
Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Malhotra laid down a nine-point guideline and said it “should be followed by trial courts in the conduct of criminal trials as far as possible.