Question: What do you mean by Hostile witness?

Note: this post is a part of our important question answer series on Evidence Law. You can read other questions by clicking here.



Witnesses are individuals who testify before the court, stating that they have seen, heard, or perceived something. A witness is generally expected to provide evidence in favor of the party that has called them. However, in certain cases, such a witness may unexpectedly turn hostile and give evidence or make statements against the interests of the party that called them. This type of witness is referred to as a 'hostile witness.’

In R.K.Dey V. State of Orissa, the court clarified that a witness is not necessarily hostile simply because their testimony contradicts the interests of the party calling them. The primary allegiance of a witness is to the truth, not to a particular party. Hostility arises when a statement is made in favor of the defense due to enmity with the prosecution.


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Reasons Of Turning A Witness Hostile

There are various reasons why a witness can turn hostile during trial proceedings. Some of these reasons include:

1.                   Inducement by various means.

2.                   Disinclination to get involved with court proceedings.

3.                   Sympathetic attitude toward accused.

4.                   Use of muscle and money power by the accused etc.


Relevant Provision Under Evidence Act

Section 154 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 deals with questions by a party to its own witness and empowers the courts with discretionary power to declare a witness as hostile upon the request of the prosecution. The court may then allow cross-examination by the party.

Furthermore, Section 155 provides the ways in which the credibility of such a witness can be impeached:

1.                   With the support of evidence of other persons.

2.                   By proof that the witness has been bribed.

3.                   By proof of any previous inconsistent statement given by such person.


Evidential Value of Statements Given By A Hostile Witness

In the case of Satpal vs. Delhi Administration, 1976, the Supreme Court stated that merely because the prosecution has chosen to treat a witness as hostile, it cannot render the evidence of such a witness entirely null.

In Atmaram and others vs. State of M.P., the Supreme Court made it clear that inconsistency in the statement of the prosecution's witness does not render the entire statement invalid. If the judge feels that the character of the witness has not been completely shaken, or that their credibility is still worthy of trust, then, with due care and caution, such statements or evidence may be accepted by the court.

In the case of State of U.P. v. Ramesh Prasad Misra and another, the top court held that the evidence given by a hostile witness requires a higher level of scrutiny.


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