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Bill with shield and stick for witnesses

New Delhi, Aug. 11: The cabinet today approved an amendment bill that penalises witnesses if they turn hostile in criminal cases.

The legislation carrying the unusual provision will also make it mandatory for witnesses to depose before a magistrate to avert coercive statements as well a volte face later without being confronted with documentary evidence.

Threats to force a witness to give false evidence will also be made punishable after the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code.

Hostile witnesses had come into sharp focus recently when a Gujarat court acquitted all the accused in the Best Bakery riot case.

Cabinet spokesperson Sushma Swaraj said the amendment would be moved during this session of Parliament. She said witnesses would now be made to make all statements before a magistrate as against the prevailing practise of deposing before police.

The Law Commission had recommended an amendment to protect witnesses and suggested recording of evidence before a magistrate. The Justice Malimath Committee had also recommended protection for witnesses.

The Supreme Court, while hearing a petition seeking the Best Bakery case retrial, had issued a notice to the Centre seeking an affidavit on steps taken to implement the Malimath committee recommendation.

Union home secretary . Gopalaswami said in case a witness went back on his statement, he could be charged with perjury by the magistrate himself after the amendment is passed. At present, the magistrate has to approach higher judicial authorities for initiating the perjury charge against a witness.

On the issue of a witness giving false evidence before a court because of threat, he said the bill proposed to bring in a new section — 195(a) — in the Indian Penal Code making such an offence punishable with seven years imprisonment or fine or both.

Dowry truce

Gopalaswami said the bill seeks to allow withdrawal of a dowry case if an agreement is reached between the two parties.

The home secretary said the proposed legislation would also allow an accused to go in for plea bargaining for reduction of sentence if the offence is punishable with less then seven years’ imprisonment.

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