Section 138 of the Evidence Act confers a valuable right of crossexamining the witness tendered in evidence by the opposite party.
The scope of that provision is enlarged by Section 146 of the Evidence Act by allowing a witness to be questioned:
(1) to test his veracity,
(2) to discover who he is and what is his position in life, or
(3) to shake his credit by injuring his character, although the answer to such questions might tend directly or indirectly to incriminate him or might expose or tend directly or indirectly to expose him to a penalty or forfeiture.
The oft-quoted observation of Lord Herschell, L.C. in Browne v. Dunn, (1893) 6 R 67 clearly elucidates the principle underlying those provisions. It reads thus:
“I cannot help saying, that it seems to me to be absolutely essential to the proper conduct of a cause, where it is intended to suggest that a witness is not speaking the truth on a particular point, to direct his attention to the fact by some questions put in cross-examination showing that that imputation is intended to be made, and not to take his evidence and pass it by as a matter altogether unchallenged, and then, when it is impossible for him to explain, as perhaps he might have been able to do if such questions had been put to him, the circumstances which, it is suggested, indicate that the story he tells ought not to be believed, to argue that he is a witness unworthy of credit.
My Lords, I have always understood that if you intend to impeach a witness, you are bound, whilst he is in the box, to give an opportunity of making any explanation which is open to him; and, as it seems to me, that is not only a rule of professional practice in the conduct of a case, but it is essential to fair play and fair dealing with witnesses.”
See Also : Vinod Kumar Vs. State of Haryana (Supreme Court of India, 08-01-2015)