Protecting Vulnerable Witnesses: SC
The Supreme Court (SC) expanded the meaning of vulnerable witnesses to also include among others sexual assault victims, those with mental illness and people with speech or hearing impairment.
- The SC referred to a verdict of 1996 in which it had passed similar directions, then in 2004 and in 2017, when it had asked all the High Courts of the country to adopt the guidelines prepared by the Delhi High Court in 2017 for vulnerable
- Vulnerable witnesses will not be limited to mean only child witnesses.
- It will also include :
- Age-neutral victims of sexual assault.
- Gender-neutral victims of sexual assault, under section 377 IPC (unnatural offences).
- Witnesses suffering from mental illness as defined in Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.
- Witnesses with threat perception and any speech or hearing impaired individual or person suffering from any other disability.
- Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre (VWDC): The SC directed that all High Court’s (HC) adopt and notify a Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre (VWDC) scheme within a period of two months.
- VWDC will provide a safe and barrier-free environment for recording the evidence of vulnerable witnesses.
- The SC asked HC’s to ensure that there is one VWDC in each district.
- These VDWC should be established in close proximity to Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) centres.
- The SC also pointed to the importance of conducting training programs to manage VWDC and sensitising all stakeholders including members of the bar, bench and staff.
- The SC urged former Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir HC Justice Gita Mittal to act as Chairperson of a committee for designing and implementing an All India VWDC training program.
- The SC also directed the Chairperson of the committee to engage with National and State Legal Services Authorities to provide an effective interface for schemes of training.
- It also asked the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to designate a nodal officer for coordinating logistical support to the Chairperson.