Sunday, June 8, 2014

No prior agreement needed with foreign country to examine witnesses via video conferencing: HC

KOCHI: No prior agreement between the Indian government and the foreign government is required to examine a witness in a criminal case through video conferencing, the Kerala high court has held.

The ruling was given by a division bench comprising of justices KT Sankaran and ML Joseph Francis while considering appeals related to a 1995 murder case from Thiruvananthapuram. The victim, 29-year-old Sakkeer was hacked to death by the accused, who were later identified as People's Democratic Party (PDP) workers, on the night of January 16th. Sakkeer was elected as chairman of Thiruvannathapuram Law College on that day and was an activist of CPM's youth wing DYFI.

When the armed gang entered his house, he had escaped through the back door and had ran to the compound of his neighbour Shajahan. It was there that the gang hacked him. Shajahan was the sole occurrence witness in the case but he later went to Saudi Arabia for job purposes. Trial court had convicted 8 of the accused, including accused no. 1 to 5.

During the hearing of the appeals filed by the accused at the high court, it was alleged that Shajahan was not properly questioned as per Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Based on high court's direction, Shajahan, who had reached Saudi Arabia by that time, was examined through video conferencing through the Indian Embassy in Riyadh.

At the high court, the accused's counsel argued that video conferencing of Shajahan was not done as provided under section 285 (3) of CrPC. For examining a witness through video conferencing, it was mandatory that there was an arrangement between the Indian government and the Saudi government in criminal matters. As a procedure has been provided in CrPC, it should have been done only as provided in the Code and not otherwise, the counsel contended.

However, the court rejected the argument, ruling that even if there is any irregularity, it would not vitiate the conviction. Pointing out that no arrangement was made between the governments in the present case, the court held that a commission cannot be appointed to examine witnesses abroad but they can be examined through video conferencing.

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