Punjab & Haryana High Court Affirms Trial Court's Authority to Summon Witnesses at Behest of 'Rank Strangers'

Punjab & Haryana HC: Trial courts can summon witnesses even on plea by 'rank strangers.' Justice Goel asserts discretion under CrPC Section 311.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court has made a significant ruling regarding the summoning and examination of witnesses in criminal trials. Justice Sumeet Goel asserted that a trial court has the authority to entertain a plea for examining a witness, even if it comes from "an apparent rank stranger" who intervenes unannounced in trial proceedings.

Section 311 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) grants courts the discretion to summon witnesses, examine individuals in court, or recall and re-examine those whose testimony has already been recorded. Justice Goel emphasized that while exercising this power at the instance of a seemingly stranger, the court must proceed with caution and require cogent and convincing reasons for doing so.

Justice Goel emphasized, "Whenever the invocation of such power is sought at the instance of a person who is seemingly rank stranger/not a party to the trial, the criminal trial court ought to exercise its powers with a much higher degree of circumspection." The ruling came in response to a petition filed by relatives challenging the dismissal of a plea by a lower court to re-examine a victim in a rape and criminal intimidation case.

During the hearing, it was revealed that both the complainant-mother and the victim were declared hostile by the public prosecutor during trial proceedings. An application under Section 311 filed by the victim’s relatives was rejected by the lower court. Justice Goel, referring to legal precedents, emphasized that there is no legal obstacle preventing the trial court from exercising its power based on an oral plea, though a more practical approach would be submission of a formal application.

Considering the facts of the case, Justice Goel dismissed the petition, stating, "Plausible reason was not coming forward as to why the victim or the complainant-mother did not come forward to file an application under Section 311." The ruling underscores the participatory role of criminal trial judges and their responsibility to ensure a fair trial.