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Supreme Court clears ballistic expert of perjury charge in Jessica Lal case

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The Supreme Court has quashed the perjury proceedings initiated against a ballistic expert in the Jessica Lal murder case by the Delhi High Court in 2013 saying it was “unjust” to attribute any motive to him for changing his original stand.

A bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur, while clearing P S Manocha of the charge under section 193 of the IPC, said he has been consistent that a definite opinion in the case could be given only if the suspected firearm is available for examination.

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jessica lal“We fail to understand how the stand taken by appellant (Manocha) attracts the offence of perjury. The appellant has all through been consistent that as an expert, a definite opinion in the case could be given only if the suspected firearm is available for examination. It is nobody’s case that scientifically an expert can give a definite opinion by only examining cartridges as to whether they have been fired from the same firearm. It was the trial court which insisted for an opinion without the presence of the firearm, and in that context only, the appellant gave the non-specific and indefinite opinion,” the bench also comprising Justice Kurian Joseph said.

It observed that an expert, in such a situation, could not have given a different opinion and said, “It was unjust to attribute any motive to Manocha that he changed his original stand in the written opinion.”

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“As a matter of fact, even in written opinion, appellant has clearly stated that a definite opinion in such a situation could be formed only with the examination of the suspected firearm, which we have already extracted in the beginning. Thus and therefore, there is no somersault or shift in the stand taken by the appellant in the oral examination before court,” it said.

Manocha, in his capacity as an expert in the murder case, had to give his opinion before a trial court on whether the bullets fired at Jessica were from the same firearm.

In his written statement, he had said that a conclusive opinion on the question was not possible in the absence of the firearm for testing in the laboratory while in his oral deposition before the trial court he said that the bullets appear to have been filed from different firearms.

In his appeal, Manocha had contended that being an expert and a professional, he only tendered his opinion in response to a specific question by court and “that does not amount to even a borderline case of perjury”. The High Court, while delivering its verdict in Jessica murder case in December 2006, had taken suo motu cognisance of witnesses turning hostile in the matter.

On May 22, 2013, the court had ordered initiation of perjury proceedings against Manocha for going back on his statement during the trial. Lall was shot dead in April 1999 by Manu Sharma, son of Haryana Congress leader Venod Sharma after she refused to serve a drink to him at a late night party at socialite Bina Ramani’s Tamarind Court restaurant in south Delhi.

The High Court, which reversed the trial court’s verdict acquitting the accused on December 18, 2006, awarded life imprisonment to Manu Sharma. In April 2010, the apex court had upheld the high court’s ruling in the case.

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