Supreme Court Rules Documents Admissible for Confrontation During Cross-Examination in Civil Trials

Supreme Court Law Insider

LI Network

Published on: December 16, 2023 at 21:18 IST

The Supreme Court has affirmed that documents can be introduced during cross-examination in a civil trial to confront either a party to the suit or a witness.

The court emphasized the lack of distinction between a party to the suit and a witness in this context, overturning a judgment by the Bombay High Court.

A bench comprising Justices BR Gavai and Sanjay Karol set aside the Bombay High Court’s ruling, which previously asserted that documents could only be presented during cross-examination to confront a witness who is not a party to the suit.

This meant that a plaintiff or defendant, acting as a witness, could not be confronted with a new document during cross-examination.

The Supreme Court deemed this view unsustainable, emphasizing the absence of a meaningful difference between a party to a suit and a witness.

The case centered around the interpretation of Order VII, Rule 14(4), Order VIII, Rule 1A(4), and Order XIII, Rule 1(3) of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908.

The High Court’s ruling, responding to conflicting judgments, maintained that documents could be directly produced during the cross-examination of a witness (not a party to the suit) without prior court approval. Additionally, the High Court asserted that a party to a suit could not be equated with a witness.

In its appeal, the Supreme Court addressed two key issues:

a) Whether there is a distinction under the Code of Civil Procedure between a party to a suit and a witness in a suit, particularly when the plaintiff or defendant appears as a witness in their own cause.

b) Whether the law, specifically Order VII Rule 14, Order VIII Rule 1-A, Order XIII Rule 1, prohibits the party conducting cross-examination from producing documents for the purpose of questioning either a party to the suit or a witness of the other party.

The Supreme Court, in a judgment authored by Justice Karol, rejected the High Court’s perspective, asserting that both parties to a suit and witnesses stand on equal footing when providing evidence, whether documentary or oral.

The court concluded that the law does not support a differentiation between a party to a suit and a witness for evidentiary purposes.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court emphasized that the freedom to produce documents during cross-examination serves the interests of all parties involved, allowing for effective questioning and ensuring the complete veracity of claims.

The judgment clarified that such confrontation is permissible at the cross-examination stage, provided the document was filed with the plaint or written statement before the court.

In emphasizing the paramount goal of discovering truth in legal proceedings, Justice Karol underscored the importance of allowing the production of documents during cross-examination.

Case title: Mohammed Abdul Wahid v. Nilofer and another.

Related Post