Charge With Perjury Upon Disbelieving Testimony on Cogent Grounds: An Analysis of Meghalaya High Court’s recent decision
A division bench of the High Court of Meghalaya, in King Victor Ch. Marak vs. State of Meghalaya, recently observed in its judgment dated June 8, 2023 that trial courts, upon disbelieving the evidence of any person on cogent grounds, should take steps for perjury against such persons.
These observations were made by the Court while dismissing a criminal appeal challenging conviction of the appellant for offences under Section 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, read with Section 376(2) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Facts of the case
The appellant was charged with committing aggravated sexual offences against a child, who was his neighbour. The child’s mother gave evidence that on the day of the incident, she had asked two of her children to go to the neighbour's house while she visited the market, during which time the appellant is said to have committed the offences.
The Contradictory Testimonies
Though the appellant completely denied having committed the offence, he did not deny his presence at the place of occurrence or deny that the child visited his residence on the day of the incident. However, three witnesses for the defence gave contradictory statements –
(i) his mother gave evidence that the child did not visit the appellant’s and her home at all on the date of the incident and alluded to a boundary dispute between their family and their neighbour's family (to which the child belonged);
(ii) his brother who claimed he was at the appellant’s and his house throughout the day of the incident admitted in cross-examination that he was not, and
(iii) the appellant’s cousin gave evidence to the effect that the child had not come to the appellant’s house on the date of the incident.
Decision and Findings
The trial court convicted the appellant. It rejected the evidence given by the above three witnesses on the ground that the appellant had not spoken to his absence from the place of the incident or that the victim had not visited there, nor had he alluded to any boundary dispute with the neighbours.
The High Court, in appeal against the conviction, held that the Trial Court was perfectly justified in disregarding the evidence of the appellant’s witnesses.
The High Court, in this context, held that the three witnesses who said that the child had not visited the appellant’s residence were clearly tutored witnesses and observed:
“…In the light of the appellant not asserting that the survivor had not come to the appellant’s residence on the relevant date, the afterthought on the basis of which the three defence witnesses were tutored and made to say in court that the survivor did not come to their residence, was obvious…. the trial court upon disbelieving the evidence of any person on cogent grounds, should also take steps for perjury. …”
The Court’s observations must be read in the context of the legal framework, which vests adequate power in the judiciary to act against perjurious witnesses. Chapter XI of the IPC (Sections 191 to 229A) deals with offences pertaining to giving false evidence and offences against public justice. Sections 195 and 340 of the CrPC deal with the procedural aspects of prosecution for such offences. Under Section 195, it is for the Court, or such officer of the Court as that Court may authorise in writing on this behalf, or of some other Court to which that Court is subordinate to file a complaint regarding the act of perjury committed by a person before it.
Equally, these observations must also be read in the context of judicial dicta on the point - this is not the first time a court has expressed anguish over increasing events of perjury; nor is this a recent issue.
More than three decades ago, in 1987, the High Court of Delhi, in Anjali Sharma v. Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations observed, while ordering two individuals to be prosecuted for perjury, that it is common knowledge that perjury has increased tremendously in the courts in recent times owing to the reluctance of the courts to take action against perjurers.
In the year 2000, in Swaran Singh v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court observed,
“(P)erjury has become a way of life in the law courts. A trial judge knows that the witness is telling a lie and is going back on his previous statement, yet he does not wish to punish him or even file a complaint against him. … To get rid of the evil of perjury, the court should resort to the use of the provisions of law as contained in Chapter XXVI of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”
The Supreme Court, in Suo Motu Proceedings against In Re R. Karuppan, Advocate, while empowering the Registrar General to depute an officer to file a complaint under Section 193 of the IPC against the Respondent therein, observed that the mere existence of the penal provisions to deal with perjury would be a cruel joke with the society unless the courts stop to take action against perjury.
The courts in KS Patcha v. Arun Sarna, Lakshmi Singa Reddy v. Secretary, A.P. Public Service Commission, Hyd., Kishore Samrite v. State of U.P., all observed that the incidents of perjury are on the rise and need to be curbed.
It is clear, therefore, that though judges are, in fact, well-equipped to deal with these concerns, and though the superior courts have repeatedly reiterated the importance of curbing perjurious acts, powers to address perjury appear to be exercised less frequently than will ensure witnesses are circumspect when they are in the box. It is critical that the trial courts wake up to the situation and start initiating prosecution against perjurers, lest the sanctity and even the purpose of the court system be lost beyond retrieval.
Lalia Elizabeth Philip is a Senior Associate at Saakshya Law.