2008 ALL MR (Cri) 3457
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT BOMBAY

A.A. SAYED, J.

Mr. H. N. Rai & Ors. Vs.Shri. Ajay Mohan & Ors.

Writ Petition No.4281 of 2008

11th July, 2008

Petitioner Counsel: Mr. PRADEEP SANCHETI , Mr. VISHAL SHAH,Shri. MANGESH PATEL
Respondent Counsel: Mr. D. S. PARIKH,Mr. PARIMAL SHROFF , Ms. PRACHI KHANDGE , Mr. SANJAY KOTAK,M/s. P. K. Shroff & Co.

(A) Evidence Act (1872), Ss.135 to 166 - Evidence - Cross-examination - Identification of signature - Witness cannot be confronted with his signature without showing the remaining portion of the document to him. AIR 1971 SC 1162 - Ref. to. (Paras 8, 12)

(B) Constitution of India, Art.227 - Evidence Act (1872), Ss.135 to 166 - Supervisory jurisdiction of High Court - Challenge to decision/ruling during course of cross-examination - Litigants ought to be a little slow in choosing to challenge the decision/ruling during course of cross-examination, by way of the petition under Art.227 of Constitution of India.

During any evidence which is being recorded, the Ld. Judge before whom the trial is being conducted enjoys wide and unrestricted powers and discretion and he is the master in so far as the overseeing whether the manner in which the trial is conducted is fair and is in accordance with law. The task of the Judge thus, is very responsible and delicate The discretion to be exercised by him has obviously to be judicious, and a lot of common sense approach is required in deciding whether to allow any question or not, insofar as relevancy of any fact is concerned and as regards the mode of cross-examination, etc. There are so many objections the adverse party may take during the course of evidence and in particular in cross-examination and a decision/ruling on every such small objections needs to be given by the Ld. Judge. These decisions, whether it is overruling an objection or sustaining the same, needs to be respected by both the parties and the parties should not rush to the higher Courts to challenge every such decision/ruling which is given by the Ld. Judge which would have the effect of stoppage of trial and would result in only causing unnecessary and avoidable delays in the justice delivery system. It is possible that in a given case, an affording and unscrupulous litigant may want to raise frivolous objections and then challenge every such decision/ruling during the course of the Trial before the higher Court thereby making the life of the litigation endless. Of course, in a given circumstance, the challenge to any decision/ruling may be justified, if on the face of it, it would result in gross injustice. However, that should be only in rare and extraordinary circumstances and should as far as possible, be avoided. The aggrieved party can always point out the prejudice caused to him at the stage of Appeal and the Appeal Court can, if such objection was shown to have been taken during the trial, set it right by resorting to the procedure prescribed in the Code of Civil Procedure. The Ld Counsels on both sides too have a great responsibility while conducting the trial and should as far as possible ensure that the parties abide by the small decisions taken by the Ld. Judge during the course of Trial. The Counsels are also officers of the Court and part of the justice dispensation system and though they enjoy a lot of latitude during cross-examination, certain amount of self restraint needs to be exercised by them to see that the power to cross-examine is not abused in any manner in the quest to search for the truth or to extract favourable answers from the witness. In the present case undisputedly the matter is part-heard and the hearing of the suit has been expedited by the Honble Supreme Court. The petitioners ought to have been a little slow in choosing to challenge the decision/ruling during the course of the cross-examination, by way of the present petition under article 227 of the Constitution of India. [Para 11,12]

Cases Cited:
Bombay Cotton Manufacturing Company Vs. R. B. Motilal Shivlal, AIR 1915 P.C. 1 [Para 6]
Palchur Sankara Reddi Vs. Palchur Mahalakshmama, AIR 1922 P.C. 315 [Para 6]
Rama Reddy Vs. V. V. Giri, AIR 1971 SC 1162 [Para 6]
Ponnammal Vs. Modern Stores, Tiruneveli, AIR (37) 1950 MADRAS 62 [Para 7]


JUDGMENT

JUDGMENT :- Rule. Rule made returnable forthwith and heard finally by consent.

2. The controversy in this petition is whether in cross-examination while confronting the witness with his signature appearing on a document, can the adverse party show the signature on the document by covering up the remaining portion of the document by any means.

3. This question arose during the cross-examination of the Respondent No.1 in a suit, being S.C. suit No.4969 of 2006 at Bombay City Civil Court at Greater Bombay. The learned Trial Judge by order dated 23.04.2008, did not permit the Counsel for the petitioners to cover up rest of the matter whilst calling upon the respondent No.1 to identify the signature part on the document, which order is impugned in this petition.

4. The suit is filed by the respondent Nos.1 to 3, who are the original plaintiffs against the petitioners and other respondents, who are the original defendants inter alia for a declaration that the petitioners and other respondents have no right title or interest of any nature in respect of the suit plot by virtue of an agreement for sale, dated 23rd October, 1969 ('the said agreement' for short) alleged to have been executed by the respondent No.1 in favour of the purchasers mentioned therein which includes some of the petitioners, their predecessors and the respondent No.4. The respondent Nos.1 to 3 have alleged in the plaint that the said agreement is a forged document and that the respondent No.1 had not signed the said agreement. The respondent No.1 was under cross-examination when the Ld. Counsel for the petitioners asked him whether he could identify his signatures, which was replied in the affirmative by him. The Ld. Counsel for the petitioners, thereafter, proposed to show the signature to the respondent No.1 by covering up rest of the matter of the document, except the signature part, and asked him to identify his signature. This was objected to by the Counsel for the respondent No.1 on the ground that it is not a permissible mode of cross-examination. The Trial Court, thereafter was pleased to hear the parties on this issue and ruled that the witness cannot be confronted with his signature without showing the remaining portion of the document to him.

5. The learned Counsel for the petitioners submitted that there was no express provision forbidding this method of cross-examination and that the petitioners were entitled to test the veracity and credibility of the witness and it was permissible for the petitioners to resort to this method. He submitted that there is distinction between proof of document and proof of signature. The learned Counsel for the petitioners submitted that the entire subject matter of the suit relates to the said agreement. He pointed out that in the cross-examination, the respondent No.1 has deposed that his mother was looking after the suit property and that he had signed the documents on the say of his mother and whenever she asked him to sign any document, he signed it and he was unable to tell the nature of the documents which he had signed in relation to the suit plot. The learned Counsel submitted that the genuineness of the signature is one of the issues arising in the suit and therefore, the petitioners are entitled to confront the respondent No.1 with his signature on the document by covering the remaining portion of the document, except the signature part. The learned Counsel submitted that the answers of the respondent No.1 are mechanical and are only based on the documents which are seen by him and it was necessary that the respondent No.1 is called upon to identify his signature by covering rest of the portion of the document.

6. Inviting my attention to sections 136, 137, 145, 146, 147 and 155 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the learned Counsel for the petitioners submitted that since genuineness of the document was in dispute the petitioners were entitled to show only the relevant part of the document i.e. the signature on that document and it was not necessary to show the other parts of the document. The learned Counsel relied upon the decisions in case of (1) Bombay Cotton Manufacturing Company Vs. R. B. Motilal Shivlal, reported in AIR 1915 Privy Council page 1 (2) Palchur Sankara Reddi Vs. Palchur Mahalakshmama, reported in AIR 1922 Privy Council page 315 (3)Rama Reddy Vs. V. V. Giri , reported in AIR 1971 SC 1162, and submitted that the Trial Court by the impugned order has wrongly rejected this method of cross-examination by the impugned order.

7. The learned Sr. Counsel for the respondent Nos.1 to 3, on the other hand, submitted that the Honble Supreme Court has expedited the hearing of the suit. He submitted that in any case once the evidence has started, there should not be any interruption in the trial of the suit and the suit should not be held up in the middle of the trial as otherwise it would be impossible to conduct any trial. Relying upon the decision in case of Ponnammal Vs. Modern Stores, Tiruneveli, reported in AIR (37) 1950 MADRAS 62 [C.N.88], the Learned Sr. Counsel reiterated that the Court should proceed with the trial to Judgment without any interruption. The learned Sr. Counsel for the respondent Nos.1 to 3 submitted that the signature sought to be confronted was the signature which was admitted and there cannot be any question of testing the veracity of witness on admitted signature on the document. He submitted that manner in which the respondent No.1 is asked to identify his signature by covering up the other matter on the document is not permissible in law. He further submitted that the entire process of cross-examination has to be fair and the search for truth should be by fair means and that this mode of cross-examination would not be fair to the witness and is only an attempt to trip respondent No.1 in his cross-examination. He submitted that the sections of the Indian Evidence Act and the citations referred to by the learned Counsel for the petitioner would not be applicable in the facts of the case He submitted that the signature on the document sought to be shown are admitted and that the respondent No.1 had a right to see the entire document and his signature cannot be shown in isolation. He submitted that the Trial Court has not stopped the petitioners from adopting any line of cross-examination of the respondent No.1 and only a particular method of cross-examination is disallowed by the Court. He submitted that matter may be ultimately examined by the Appeal Court, if any adverse order is passed against the petitioners in the suit and the petitioners should not have approached this court at this stage seeking interference in the impugned order in exercise of its writ jurisdiction.

8. I have heard the learned Counsel for the parties and perused the material on record. In my view this method of cross-examination by asking the respondent No.1 to identify his signature by covering the rest of the matter on the document, would not be fair to the respondent No.1 and the impugned order cannot be faulted in disallowing this method of cross-examination. It is taken note of that the said agreement is of the year 1969. The petitioners have not been able to substantiate that it is permissible for them to adopt this mode of cross-examination. No doubt the petitioners are entitled to cross-examine the witness to impeach his credibility, however, while cross-examining the witness, it is not permissible to the adverse party to transgress any areas whereby the means adopted are unfair and unjust and may cause prejudice or injustice to the witness, insofar as the procedure adopted during cross-examination. Merely because the entire case of the parties rests on any document, does not mean that the party can be permitted to resort to any mode of cross-examination. If this mode of cross-examination is permitted, then, besides being unfair to the witness, in every matter wherever identification of signatures are involved, the parties would want to adopt this mode, which would have serious ramifications on the system.

9. Here, reference may be made to sections 159, 160 and 161 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Though directly not applicable, the underlying principles can be borrowed from them and can be of some guidance and assistance in the facts of the present case. These sections inter alia provide that it is permissible for the witness, while under examination to refresh his memory by referring to any writing in respect of the transaction of which he is questioned. In other words, it is permissible for him to see any document, in relation to the transaction, when he is questioned. The principle is that in the interest of truth it would be desirable to recognize the full benefit of recollection of the witness as to the whole of the facts. While under section 159, the document permissible to be seen are contemporaneous documents, section 160 goes one step further and a witness is permitted to refresh his memory by a document even though he has no specific recollection of the facts themselves, but he must be sure that the facts were correctly recorded in the document. Applying these principles broadly, I do not see any reason why in the facts of the present case, the witness should not be permitted to see the entire document or at least the entire page wherein the signature of the witness appears, particularly when the document is part of the record and the signature is but a part of the document. In my view, it would be unfair on the witness to deny him the benefit of seeing the document without asking him to identify his signature on the document by covering the rest of the portion of the document. The principle is one of practice and not of any substantive law and the impugned order cannot be termed as injudicious or perverse.

10. Chapter X of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, ("the said Act" for short) which comprises of sections 135 to 166, deals with the examination of witnesses. Section 135 of the said Act provides for the order of production and examination of witnesses and further states that in absence of any law and practice with regard to the order in which the witnesses are produced to be examined is "the discretion" left to the Court. Section 136 states that the "Judge" to decide about admissibility of the evidence "if he thinks" that the fact if proved would be relevant or not. Section 144 deals with hearing as to matters in writing and speaks of "opinion of the Court" in relation to production of any document which is referred to during evidence by the witness. Section 148 provides that "the Court to decide" when question shall be asked and when witness compelled to answer if the matter is not relevant except in cases where it affects the credit of the witness by injuring his character. Section 150 lays down that if the "Court is of the opinion" that any question was asked without reasonable grounds, it may report the circumstances of the case to the High Court etc. Section 154 speaks of the "discretion" exercised by the Court in respect of questions to be put by the party to his own witness which might be put in cross-examination by the adverse party. Section 155 talks about taking the "consent of the Court" to impeach the credit of witness by the party who calls him. Section 156 provides for the permitting of evidence "if the Court is of the opinion" that certain other circumstances, if proved, would corroborate the testimony of the witness as to the relevant fact which he testifies. Section 165 confers vast and unrestricted powers on the Trial Court to put any question he pleases in any form, at any time, to any witness or to the parties about any fact relevant or irrelevant in order to discover the relevant facts.

11. The purpose of stating the above provisions is to bring home the point that during any evidence which is being recorded, the Ld. Judge before whom the trial is being conducted enjoys wide and unrestricted powers and discretion and he is the master in so far as the overseeing whether the manner in which the trial is conducted is fair and is in accordance with law. The task of the Judge thus, is very responsible and delicate The discretion to be exercised by him has obviously to be judicious, and a lot of common sense approach is required in deciding whether to allow any question or not, insofar as relevancy of any fact is concerned and as regards the mode of cross-examination, etc. There are so many objections the adverse party may take during the course of evidence and in particular in cross-examination and a decision/ruling on every such small objections needs to be given by the Ld. Judge. These decisions, whether it is overruling an objection or sustaining the same, needs to be respected by both the parties and the parties should not rush to the higher Courts to challenge every such decision/ruling which is given by the Ld. Judge which would have the effect of stoppage of trial and would result in only causing unnecessary and avoidable delays in the justice delivery system. It is possible that in a given case, an affording and unscrupulous litigant may want to raise frivolous objections and then challenge every such decision/ruling during the course of the Trial before the higher Court thereby making the life of the litigation endless. Of course, in a given circumstance, the challenge to any decision/ruling may be justified, if on the face of it, it would result in gross injustice. However, that should be only in rare and extraordinary circumstances and should as far as possible, be avoided. The aggrieved party can always point out the prejudice caused to him at the stage of Appeal and the Appeal Court can, if such objection was shown to have been taken during the trial, set it right by resorting to the procedure prescribed in the Code of Civil Procedure. The Ld. Counsels on both sides too have a great responsibility while conducting the trial and should as far as possible ensure that the parties abide by the small decisions taken by the Ld Judge during the course of Trial. The Counsels are also officers of the Court and part of the justice dispensation system and though they enjoy a lot of latitude during cross-examination, certain amount of self restraint needs to be exercised by them to see that the power to cross examine is not abused in any manner in the quest to search for the truth or to extract favourable answers from the witness.

12. In the present case undisputedly the matter is part-heard and the hearing of the suit has been expedited by the Hon'ble Supreme Court. In my view, the petitioners ought to have been a little slow in choosing to challenge the decision/ruling during the course of the cross-examination, by way of the present petition under article 227 of the Constitution of India. In any event, as discussed above, I do not find any case for interference in the impugned order. The ruling cited by the Ld. Counsel for Respondent Nos.1 to 3 which lays down that there should not be any interruptions once the trial has begun are relevant in so far as the need to expedite the hearing of a part-heard suit is concerned. In so far as the rulings cited by the Ld. Counsel for the petitioners is concerned, they were merely broad principles of law and relate more to the impeaching the credibility of the witness and would not be of any assistance in the facts of the present case. Both the Counsels have fairly submitted that there is no precedence in the form of judicial pronouncement in so far as the mode of cross-examination by calling upon the witness to identify his signature by covering the rest of the portion of the document is concerned, and that the relevant sections of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, also do not directly relate to the matter in controversy.

13. In the result, the petition is dismissed with costs quantified at Rs.10,000/- to be paid by the petitioners to the respondent Nos.1 to 3.

Rule stands discharged.

Petition dismissed.