Supreme Court today set aside the Punjab and Haryana High Court order allowing the accused to recall and re-examine several prosecution witnesses in the case in which a senior manager was allegedly burnt alive and many others were injured in the 2012 labour unrest at Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki Limited.

“We allow the appeals (filed by Haryana government and others), set aside the order passed by the High Court and restore that of the trial judge. We direct the learned trial judge to proceed with the trial in accordance with the law,” a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and U U Lalit said.

Avnish Dev, 51, General Manager, Human Resources of the company was allegedly burnt alive and nearly 100 others injured on the evening of July 18, 2012 when agitating workers went on a rampage, attacking officials and torching the office.

The Haryana government had filed an appeal in the apex court against the Hugh Court order annulling the order of the trial judge.

The trial court had rejected the plea of some accused seeking to recall and re-examine some key witnesses on the grounds including that their main counsel was unwell.

“The High Court has been moved by the ground that the accused are in the custody and the concept of speedy trial is not nullified and no prejudice is caused, and, therefore, the principle of magnanimity should apply. Suffice it to say, a criminal trial does not singularly centre around the accused.

“In it, there is involvement of the prosecution, the victim and the victim represents the collective. The cry of the collective may not be uttered in decibels which is physically audible in the court premises, but the Court has to remain sensitive to such silent cries and the agonies, for the society seeks justice. Therefore, a balance has to be struck,” the apex court said.

It also said that “magnanimous approach” should not be confined to the accused only.

“Regard being had to the concept of balance, and weighing the factual score on the scale of balance, we are of the convinced opinion that the High Court has fallen into absolute error in axing the order passed by the learned trial judge,” Justice Misra, writing the judgement, said.

Granting relief to the accused, the High Court had said that 148 persons were facing trial for their alleged varied roles in the case in which over 100 prosecution witnesses have been examined. It would be in the interest of justice if the accused are allowed to re-examine some witnesses, it had said.

Setting aside HC verdict, the apex court said, “It needs to be stated that the learned trial Judge who had the occasion to observe the conduct of the witnesses and the proceedings in the trial, has clearly held that recalling of the witnesses were not necessary for just decision of the case.”

The bench, in its 44-page judgement, said the concept of fair trial cannot be “stretched limitlessly” and the High Court order “may fall in the arena of sanctuary of errors”.

“The courts cannot ignore the factual score. Recalling of witnesses as envisaged under the said statutory provision on the grounds that accused persons are in custody, the prosecution was allowed to recall some of its witnesses earlier, the counsel was ill and magnanimity commands fairness should be shown, we are inclined to think, are not acceptable in the obtaining factual matrix.

“The decisions which have used the words that the court should be magnanimous, needless to give special emphasis, did not mean to convey individual generosity or magnanimity which is founded on any kind of fanciful notion. It has to be applied on the basis of judicially established and accepted principles. The approach may be liberal but that does not necessarily mean ‘the liberal approach’ shall be the rule and all other parameters shall become exceptions.

“Recall of some witnesses by the prosecution at one point of time, can never be ground to entertain a petition by the defence though no acceptable ground is made out. It is not an arithmetical distribution. This kind of reasoning can be dangerous.

“In the case at hand, the prosecution had examined all the witnesses. The statements of all the accused persons, that is 148 in number, had been recorded under Section 313 CrPC. The defence had examined 15 witnesses. The foundation for recall, as is evincible from the applications filed, does not even remotely make out a case that such recalling is necessary for just decision of the case or to arrive at the truth…,” the court said.