A ballistic expert facing perjury charge in the infamous Jessica lal murder case was let off the hook by the Supreme Court last week.
Absolving the then Deputy Director of Rajasthan Forensic Science laboratory Prem Sagar Manocha, the court held that a forensic expert being a professional gives an “opinion on facts” during the trial unlike any other witness who must present facts as put forth by the prosecution.
For Manocha, the order has come as a huge reprieve. After all, he had the sword hanging on his neck since May 22, 2013 when the Delhi High Court ordered its Registrar General to lodge a complaint against the ballistic expert under IPC Section 193 that relates to giving false evidence. The offence carries a maximum punishment of seven years jail term.
The celebrated case of Jessica lal murder had caught the attention of the entire nation after a Delhi court acquitted 10 persons finding nobody guilty for killing Jessica at an uptown bar of south Delhi in the year 1999. Two cartridge cases recovered from the crime spot was the lone evidence to link the accused to the crime even as the weapon of offence could not be recovered. Manocha thus became a crucial witness in the case as it rested upon him to prove whether the cartridge cases were of the same make and fired from the same gun.
In his written opinion, Manocha had no doubt the cartridge belonged to .22 bore and was fired from a pistol. But whether the weapon used was one or more could only be established if the suspected firearm was examined, the report said. During trial, when the Court asked a further question on the shot being fired from different weapons, Manocha gave his opinion that the two empty cases “appeared” to have been fired from different weapons. Manocha was declared hostile.
The Delhi High Court reversed the trial court’s findings and launched perjury proceedings against some witnesses including Manocha. The HC was of the view that his opinion helped accused to escape. For Manocha, senior advocate KV Vishwanathan argued that his client had given an opinion and the HC erred by attributing reason to it.
The apex bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph set aside the HC order. It said, “Expert evidence needs to be given closer scrutiny and requires a different approach while initiating proceedings (of perjury)…The witness of facts does not give his opinion on facts but presents facts as such. However, the expert gives an opinion on what he has tested or on what has been subjected to scrutiny.”
Justice Joseph, who authored the judgment, felt the opinion given by an expert in the absence of weapon was not a “clear, conclusive, specific and definite” opinion and placed in this situation any expert was bound to give such a view.