The Calcutta High Court recently emphasised that video conferencing facilities should be used to record statements of witnesses in criminal proceedings, particularly in cases under Special statues, in line with the Supreme Court’s earlier directions in the case of Thana Singh v. Central Bureau of Narcotics. .As stated in the judgment passed by Bench of Justices Joymalya Bagchi and Manojit Mandal,.“… in future cases the aforesaid direction given by the Apex Court in Thana Singh (supra) may be considered in the light of advancement in technology particularly availability of video conferencing facilities for recording evidence in criminal cases. .Concern expressed in Thana Singh (supra) with regard to delay in examination of official witnesses, due to transfer from parent organization to different places may be effectively addressed if the said witnesses are permitted to record their evidence via electronic/video linkage available in the district court complex nearest to his present place of posting. In State of Maharashtra Vs. Dr Praful B. Desai, (2003) 4 SCC 601 and Sujoy Mitra Vs. State of W.B., (2015) 16 SCC 615, the Apex Court held that examination of a witness via video conference is permissible in law….…Technological progress in recording evidence via electronic/video linkage is a boon and ought to effectively utilized to improve the quality of dispensation of justice by reducing the time taken for conducting trials in narcotic cases involving official witnesses who are posted at far off places and whose attendance in Court cannot be promptly ensured..Special courts conducting such trial (particularly where under trials are in jail) are directed to avail of electronic/video linkage facilities and examine official witnesses whose attendance cannot be procured without delay, undue expenses and/or other inconveniences so that the fundamental right of speedy and fair trial is effectively enforced and does not become a dead letter of law.“.The Court proceeded to detail the elaborate procedure to implement the video conferencing that has already been laid down in the Sujoy Mitra case. In view of the same, the Court opined,.“Procedure of recording evidence of witness in far off places via video conference in Sujoy Mitra (supra) were laid down by the Apex Court subsequent to Thana Singh (supra) and the ratio contained therein may be gainfully utilized for recording evidence of official witnesses who have been transferred to a distant place and their physical attendance in court cannot be promptly procured.”.The observations were made while dealing with an appeal filed to quash a conviction order in a case involving drug trafficking charges under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act). Apart from arguing that the prosecution had failed to prove their case, the appellants also registered objection to the prosecution’s move to submit witness statements of the officials involved in the raids in the form of affidavits..The Court ultimately dismissed the appeal, finding that the prosecution had sufficiently proven their case. Further, it also noted that the submission of witness statements by officials under the NDPS Act through affidavit was found to be permissible in the Thana Singh case. Moreover, the Court also pointed out that this particular objection cannot be raised at the appellate stage for the first time. The Court said,.“As the contents of the affidavits are not inherently inadmissible but their mode and manner of leading evidence is in question, I am of the opinion that the objection thereto must have been raised at the earliest and not at the appellate stage.”.Notably, the Court proceeded to highlight why video conferencing would be a preferred alternative to submitting affidavits to record witness statements of the officials. In this regard, the judgment states,.“…examination of official witnesses via video conference has two-fold advantages over affidavit evidence. .Firstly, when examination-in-chief of a witness is recorded by filing affidavit evidence the witness is not absolved from being physically present in Court as he has to prove the affidavit and offer himself for cross-examination and the wholesome object of saving time by avoiding travel of official witnesses from their place of posting to the trial Court is defeated. On the other hand, if evidence of the said witness is recorded via electronic/video linkage, he need not be physically present in the court premises and thereby the purpose of quick trial would be better served. .Secondly, recording of evidence of witnesses via video linkage is better suited to the concept of fair trial than affidavit evidence. If a witness is examined via electronic/video linkage, his demeanour may be watched by the Court enabling it to form an opinion with regard to his creditworthiness. Similarly, it helps the accused to formulate his defence and pose appropriate questions in cross to test the veracity of his deposition. Demeanour of a witness cannot be assessed if his chief is recorded through affidavit evidence. One cannot lose sight of the fact that criminal cases, unlike civil cases, are primarily based on oral evidence of witnesses of fact where demeanour and conduct of the witness during his examination-in-chief play a very vital role in assessing his truthfulness.“.With these observations, the Court dismissed the main appeal and upheld the conviction of the appellants..[Read Judgment].Bar & Bench is available on WhatsApp. For real-time updates on stories, Click here to subscribe to our WhatsApp.