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Let Munshi’s trial set an example

Let Munshi’s trial set an example
The Delhi High Court’s decision to hear perjury trial against the Bollywood actor Shayan Munshi is a welcome step in ensuring that witnesses do not turn hostile during the under trial stage of any case, particularly those involving high-profile crimes such as murder or rape. While Shayan Munshi, a small time actor, who was embroiled in the Jessica Lall murder case, first as an eyewitness to the gruesome killing of the model for refusing to serve a drink after midnight to Manu Sharma at a socialite-owned restro-bar, and later, as someone who went back on his statements on false claims of not knowing Hindi, must be prosecuted for perjury and misleading the  sacrosanct institution of the judiciary, the trial should also look into the pressures that make the witnesses turn hostile in the first place. The Delhi High Court’s verdict on Wednesday saying that though Munshi first identified Manu Sharma as the culprit who shot Lall from point blank range, he later retracted his initial testimony and claimed that Sharma did not demand alcohol from slain model-turned-bartender Lall. The bench of justces S Ravindra Bhat and G P Mittal also noted that Munshi later declined to identify the real offender, as a result of which the trial court had no way but to let off Sharma. However, the trial court verdict was challenged in court and was turned down, resulting in Sharma’s conviction, after a city-wide protest and candle-light vigils brought the capital down to a grinding halt. Munshi’s attempt to suppress facts, along with another witness PS Manocha, a ballistic expert, therefore stand out in bitter contrast with the sentiment od the outraged public as well as the course that law must take in order to deliver timely justice to the victim and her family.

Witnesses turning hostile is one of the primary reasons why justice is either delayed or never granted in a major chunk of legal hearings not only in India, but also world wide. This is a menace to the criminal justice system, with witnesses going back on their words with alarming regularity, thus affecting and often completely altering the course of the trial. Because the witness is indispensable aid in the justice dispensation system in any modern society, ensuring adequate protection is a must to enable speedy and accurate court proceedings. Unfortunately, India sorely lacks in this regard, with witnesses being pressured and threatened to alter their testimonies from the affected party, particularly if the defendant is rich and has powerful connections in political, penal and business communities. The greatest weakness of our criminal justice system is that there is a distressing lack of smooth functioning, and none of the institutions such as the police, seeming to do their bid in guaranteeing the right path being followed. Even though perjury trial of Munshi might act as a future deterrent to witnesses turning hostile, unless full-proof protection is in place, such travesty of justice will keep recurring.
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