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Jessica case: Hostile witnesses to now face the heat


New Delhi: Witnesses who turned hostile during the trial in the 1999 murder of model Jessica Lal may now be in trouble as the Delhi High Court will from Friday resume perjury (lying on oath) proceedings against them.

Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, along with some other judge, will take up regular hearing of the case from Feb 18.

The development occurred after Delhi Police earlier submitted in the high court a copy of the April 2010 Supreme Court verdict upholding the conviction of prime accused Manu Sharma for the murder.

Seeking resumption of perjury (lying on oath) case against the witnesses, who include actor Shyan Munshi, ballistic experts Roop Singh and Prem Sagar, electrician Shiv Shankar Dass amongst others, standing counsel Pawan Sharma informed the court that the apex court has not dropped proceedings against them and, therefore, the high court can now begin hearing the case.

In its 2006 verdict reversing the trial court acquittal of Sharma, the court had asked the hostile witnesses before it to explain why they should not be charged with perjury.

Later, the court put the proceedings – at the preliminary stage of issuance of notice – on hold because the apex court was hearing the matter. But the judges made it clear the outcome of Sharma’s appeal would decide what happens to perjury proceedings against Munshi and others.

“If he gets free, you go free; if he is convicted, you will be in trouble,” the bench warned.

Senior advocate Aman Lekhi, representing Munshi, said his client never committed any perjury and no case is made out.

“The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court relied on Munshi’s statements to convict Manu Sharma. The proceedings against Munshi is wholly untenable and completely devoid of any justification. The perjury notice ignores settled principles of law. Certain contradictions in the statements given to police and the court do not make him a hostile witness or a dishonest one. Perjury charges are not made out. It will be challenged,” Lekhi said.

The apex court verdict had spawned strong demands for prosecuting those who turned hostile during the trial. From Jessica’s sister Sabrina Lal to socialite Bina Ramani to retired Delhi High Court judge R.S. Sodhi, all had pitched for revival of court proceedings against witnesses like Munshi, the person on whose statement the FIR was registered.

He later changed his stand in the court and introduced the “two gun theory” that led to Sharma’s acquittal in the trial court.

“You can’t allow anyone to come in, tell lies and walk off smiling from court,” was Justice Sodhi’s reaction after the apex court verdict. Sodhi was among the two judges who convicted Manu Sharma and initiated the separate perjury proceedings.