Updated: Apr 9


It is a settled principle of the criminal justice system that the importance of a witness can never be ignored.

According to Bentham witnesses are the "eyes and ears of justice".

Witnesses are the golden key which can open the gates of justice. However, these witnesses can be easily discredited by the opposite party through cross-examining his deponents. It becomes a nightmare for the advocate where a situation arises when the favourable witness turns hostile leading to an absolute change in the outcome of a case. Hence the importance and quality of the trial are itself challenged if the witness himself is not ready to serve as eyes and ears of justice. The trial gets impaired and it no longer can be called a fair trial.

In the celebrated case of Himanshu Singh Sabharwal Vs State of Madhya Pradesh and others, the Hon’ble Court held that “free and fair trial is the sine qua non of Article 21 of Indian Constitution.

Regardless of whether it's an instance of Best Bakery case or Jessica Lal Case it has been found in most of the high profile and even in normal cases that the eye witness of the Case becomes hostile a witness during the trial which furthermore not only impairs the prosecution case drastically but also affects justice to the victim.

Types of witnesses

The Case of Sampath Kumar Vs Inspector of Police, Krishnagiri, It was held that witnesses can be classified under three categories:

  1. Those who are wholly reliable,

  2. Those who wholly unreliable

  3. Those who are neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable.

When the witness is wholly reliable, the court has no difficulty in delivering the judgement. It can either convict or acquit the accused on the deposition of a witness. Also, In the second category, there is no difficulty in arriving at an appropriate conclusion as there exists no question as to placing any reliance upon the deposition of a wholly unreliable witness. It is the third case where the courts face problems in delivering the judgement.

To elaborate further, witnesses can be classified under the following categories:-

  • Child Witness

  • Interested Witness

  • Eye Witness

  • Hostile Witness

  • Related Witness

  • Independent Witness

  • Solitary Witness

  • Material Witness

  • Trap Witness

  • Expert Witness

  • Official Witness

Who is a hostile witness?

Indian law doesn’t categorically construe “Hostile witness”, the term hostile witness, unfavourable witness etc are the terms of English law. However, in the celebrated case of Gura Singh Vs state of Rajasthan, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that hostile witness is the one who doesn’t intend to tell the truth at the instances of the party calling him whereas the unfavourable Witness is the one called by the rival party to prove a particular fact who acts to prove such fact or proves the opposite test.

As stated in the Law Dictionary, Hostile Witness is a witness which is as per the court is hostile against the one they are called to testify for. Under common law, Hostile witness is the one who is not desirous of telling the truth at the instance of the party calling him.

However, in a layman’s language, it would be true to state that hostile witnesses are those who don't tell the truth in the court either by actions or statements and become dissident to the party who called him.

The Concept Of Hostile Witness By The Supreme Court

Sat Paul Vs Delhi Administration

An officer was charged for bribery, as the inspector of the Anti-corruption Department laid a trap for him. After the transfer of money to the accused the department immediately raided the office of the accused. The prosecution evidence by the court as they were interested parties in the trap also, the two other independent witnesses from the side of prosecution made contradictory statements. The question regarding the credibility of the witnesses was aroused.