Supreme Court expands definition of vulnerable witnesses
SC calls for setting up of deposition centres in High Courts across the country
The Supreme Court has, in a landmark judgment, included victims of sexual assault and those with mental illness, among others under the purview of vulnerable witnesses under Section 3 of Delhi High Court guidelines.
Hearing a petition on the issue of protecting vulnerable witnesses in compliance with an earlier Apex court ruling, a bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and DY Chandrachud laid out guidelines clarifying who could be seen as a vulnerable witness and how there was a need to set up special facilities to record the evidence of such witnesses.
At the same time, amicus curiae Senior Advocate Vibha Makhija suggested setting up Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centres in all high courts and the need for continuous training in this under National Legal Services Authority. Taking note of the amicus curiae's observation, the judges directed all high courts shall adopt and notify a VWDC scheme within two months.
The bench noted that the definition will not be limited to just child witnesses. This will also include, age and gender-neutral victims of sexual assault, witnesses suffering from mental illness, witnesses having a threat perception under the central government schemes and individuals with speech or hearing impairment who will be considered to be vulnerable by the court.
While calling upon high courts to ensure one Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre in each district, the Apex court directed the state government to sanction adequate funds for setting up the centres. The Women and Child Development ministry have been told to designate a nodal officer to ensure the implementation of the Apex court's directions.