A witness is considered as living evidence. Its role is very important to meet the ends of justice. All the evidence given by the witness cannot be easily relied upon as it can be influenced and coerced by many powerful people. There is a need to check and shake the veracity of the witness to maintain trustworthiness, i.e. to impeach his credit to get the best and just (fair/truth) out of it.
Impeaching the credit of a witness means to shake the reliability of the evidence given by the witness. It is to expose the person’s (witness’) real character and make the court believe that the witness is not reliable, and thus the court should not rely on this witness.
The credit of the witness can be impeached by cross-examination and by other independent pieces of evidence. Here is more about these.
The examination of a witness by the adverse party is known as cross-examination. This is done to test the veracity (truthfulness, accuracy) of the evidence made during examination-in-chief (to strengthen own case).
The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides different ways to impeach the credit of witnesses. Sections 138, 140, 145, 146 & 154 of Evidence Act provides for the same, i.e. by cross-examination. Let us take a look.
Section 138 – Order of Examinations
Section 138 of the Evidence Act provides for the order of examination of witnesses. It says that after examination-in-chief is done, cross-examination can be done by the adverse party.
The object of cross-examination is to detect and expose the facts which are suppressed by the witness in the examination-in-chief. To impeach the credit of witness:
- Questions that are relevant to the fact, or
- Questions as to credibility can be put to the witness.
Juwar Singh vs State of M.P. (1971): If the adverse party voluntarily does not cross-examine any witness on any point, it leads to the inference that the other party accepts the truth of the statement provided by the witness.
Section 140 – Witnesses to Character
Section 140 of the Evidence Act says that the person, i.e. witnesses who give evidence to the party’s character; such witnesses can be cross-examined and re-examined. Re-examination means the examination of the new facts which were not known during examination-in-chief and has been discovered in cross-examination.
Section 145 – Cross-Examination as to Previous Statements in Writing
Section 145 of the Evidence Act says that the previous statements that were in writing or reduced in writing by witnesses can be cross-examined.
Conditions to fall under section 145:
- It must be in writing.
- It must be relevant to the matters in question.
This provision aims to give a witness a chance to explain and reconsider his statement.
Provided that if the cross-examination is done to contradict the writing of the witness, a chance must be given to the witness to see such writing, which is to be used for the purpose of contradiction.
Section 145, read with section 157 of the Evidence Act, says that all the witnesses’ previous oral or written statements can be used for corroboration.
Hasib vs State of Bihar (1971): The court held that the statement contained in the FIR filed by a witness about the commission of an offence based on personal observation can be used for corroboration during the trial.
Section 146 – Questions Lawful in Cross-Examination
Section 146 of the Evidence Act provides that by way of cross-examination, the credit of the witness can be impeached in three ways:
- To check his veracity (something on which one can rely).
- To discover who he is and his position in life.
- By injuring his character or shaking his credit directly or indirectly.
Exception: The questions relating to the previous sexual experience of a witness cannot be asked.
Section 154 – Question by Party to His Own Witness – Also Known as Hostile Witness
A hostile witness is the one who, from how he gives evidence, shows that:
- He is not desirous of telling the truth at the instance of the party calling him, or
- He has been gained over by the opposite party, or
- He makes a statement against the interest of the party who calls him.
The credit of such a witness can also be impeached with the court’s permission by the party who calls such a witness.
And either of the party can rely upon any part of the evidence made by such a witness.
By Other Independent Evidence
Other independent evidence means producing separate evidence. It can be other witnesses, any document, etc. Section 155 of IEA provides for such independent evidence to impeach the credit of the witness.
Section 155 – Impeaching Credit of Witness
Section 155 of the Evidence Act says that the credit of the witness can be impeached by allowing independent evidence by both the parties, i.e. the adverse party and the party calling the witness.
The adverse party has a right to impeach the credit, whereas the party calling can only do it with the court’s permission.
The section provides three ways to impeach the credit of witness:
- Testimony of unworthiness: The person who has been called as a witness, his credit can be impeached by the evidence of persons (calling other witnesses) who will further testify that from their knowledge, the first witness is unworthy of credit or cannot be relied upon.
- Witness is bribed: By producing evidence that the witness has been bribed to give such evidence by the other party.
- Former inconsistent statement: The former statements of the witness can be contradicted with other evidence by proof.
Bhogi Lal vs The Royal Insurance (1927): No evidence of any sort as to the testimony of the witness can be drawn, but the demand of bribe by the witness should be proved.
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