An apex court bench of Justice BS Chauhan and Justice Dipak Misra, in a recent judgment, said that the "evidence of a prosecution witness cannot be rejected in toto merely because the prosecution chose to treat him as hostile and cross-examined him".
"The evidence of such witnesses cannot be treated as effaced, or washed off the record altogether. The same can be accepted to the extent that their version is found to be dependable, upon a careful scrutiny thereof," said Justice Chauhan, speaking for the bench.
Having held that the evidence of a hostile witness would not get washed off entirely, the court said that the law permits the court to take into consideration the deposition of a hostile witness, to the extent that the same is in consonance with the case of the prosecution, and found to be reliable under careful judicial scrutiny.
Besides holding that the evidence of a hostile witness could be relied upon to the extent it supported the prosecution case, the court said that while appreciating the evidence of a witness (not declared hostile), minor discrepancies on trivial matters which do not affect the core of the case of the prosecution must not prompt the court to reject the evidence in its entirety.
The court has to examine whether evidence read as a whole appears to have a ring of truth, the judgment said.
The court is not supposed to give undue importance to omissions, contradictions and discrepancies which do not go to the heart of the matter, and shake the basic version of the prosecution witness, judgment said.
The court said that the minor discrepancies should not be taken into consideration, as they cannot form grounds for rejecting the evidence on record as a whole.
The court said this while rejecting an appeal by one Rohtash Kumar, who was convicted and awarded life imprisonment for killing his wife Sonia. The Supreme Court upheld the order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court of Feb 5, 2009 in the case.
Rohtash Kumar had challenged, in the Supreme Court, an order of the high court upholding his conviction and award of life imprisonment by the session court.
Rohtash and Sonia were married in March 2003 but their marriage ran into turbulence and the couple decided to break up through mutual consent. Sonia was last seen with Rohtas on Sep 2, 2004 in her hostel; she was later found strangulated to death.