Hostile witness and its Credibility

The word ‘hostile’ literally means unfriendly .A witness is generally expected to give evidence in favor of the party to whom he/she is called. But in certain cases such witness may unexpectedly turn hostile and gives evidence against the interest of the party, who has called him/her. Such witness is called ‘hostile witnesses. He /she is also known as ‘Adverse witness’ or ‘Unfavorable witness’. A hostile witness is one who form the manner in which he/she gives evidence shows that he/she is not desirous to telling the truth to the court.


Where the witness is adverse to the party called him/her, such party is not entitled as of right to cross –examine the witness. The matter is entirely in the discretion of the court whether to permit to the person calling the witness to put any questions to him/her , which might be put  by the adverse party in cross-examination. Before putting such question, the party must take permission from the court. In the case of Sat. Paul vs. Delhi Administration the Supreme Court of India observed that witnesses were supposed to be independent, made contradictory statement and the prosecution with permission  of the court can  cross-examine them.

Credit of hostile witness:

Principally, the court relies upon the evidence given by the witness to arrive at the truth or falsity of the claim or charge in the litigation. Some times, the witness called by the party turns hostile and it is not safe to rely upon such evidence. Then the parties may be provided with an opportunity to give independent testimony by impeaching the credit of witness.

The credit of witness may be impeached in the following ways by the adverse party or with the consent of the court by the party who called him/her;

a.By the evidence  of persons who testify  that they ,from their knowledge of the witness , believe him/her to be unworthy of credit.

b.By proof that the witness has been bribed or has accepted the offer  of a bribe or has received any other corrupt inducement to give his/her evidence.

c.By proof of former statements inconsistent with any part of his/her evidence which is liable to be contradicted.

13.8.Cross- examination is an art:

When thinking about cross-examination , it is  important  to keep  in the mind  that its primary  purposes is  destructive – to destroy the credibility  of the witness by suggesting  that the witness did not  perceive correctly, does  not remember accurately  what he/she  saw, is not  communicating  accurately , what he/she thinks , he/she remembers, he/she saw  or is lying .Thus most of the cross –examination , when it is not eliciting new facts that the witness has not testified to on direct –examination  in order to  help build the cross-examiner’s case-in –chief  or defense, attacks perception , memory, clarity or sincerity. Sincerity is the most  complex of these testimonial capacities and is itself often  broken  down into bias, prejudice, interest and corruption.

Cross-examination is often spoken by trial lawyers as the ultimate  trial art-the most difficult skill for a lawyer to master, requiring  years of practice, an intuitive grasp of human psychology  and understanding of the legal subject matter, the judge and jury’s subjective needs and biases, and all of the information  contained in the World Almanac(just incase  the witness testifies  on direct  that he/she saw the crime  committed in the moon light in which  there was no moon).Young lawyers, however, often find that asking  the non object able question  on direct examination is a bigger  problem. But direct examination is mostly  a matter of knowing what the foundational requirements are  for the evidence you want to elicit, asking the question  in proper order(starting with who is witness? what is her connection  to the case?) to establish the necessary foundation and allowing  the witness to tell the story. Allowing the witness to tell his/her story makes not only good sense from an advocacy  perspective; it is  what  the rules require. Leading questions should not be used on direct examination or with friendly witness on cross-examination.

However cross-examination is the best  test of truth  or falsity. It helps  to purify truth and fair justice. Cross-examination of the witness  to collect other evidence. Cross-examination of the witness  is the process of purifying the facts, collection of the facts for the witness of the opposite party. The proper exercise cross-examination is regarded as one of the most effective  test which the law has devised for discovery  of truth. It is a most effective of all means for extracting truth and exposing falsehood.