Supreme Court asks High Courts to set up special centres for Vulnerable witnesses

The Supreme Court while lauding the Delhi High Court for setting up vulnerable witnesses deposition complexes has asked other High Courts in the Country to follow suit in consonance with guidelines postulated in Sakshi v. Union of India and Ors.

The order was passed by a bench of Justice AK Goel and UU Lalit while hearing a criminal appeal filed by the State of Maharashtra against a judgment of the Bombay High Court in a rape case.

“We are of the view that all High Courts can adopt such guidelines if the same have not yet been adopted with such modifications as may be deemed necessary”, the Court said.

The case pertained to the rape of a deaf, dumb and mentally challenged minor girl. The trial court had convicted the accused but the Bombay High Court had reversed the decision of the trial court and acquitted him.

The basis of the High Court order was that since the victim herself was not examined, the factum of rape and involvement of the accused could not be held to have been proved.

The respondent did not enter appearance before the Supreme Court. The Court, therefore, appointed advocate Shirin Khajuria as Amicus Curiae. After hearing, Khajuria and Nishant R Katneshwarkar, who appeared for the State, the Court concluded that the High Court was not justified in setting aside the order of the trial Court since rape was confirmed by medical examination and the identity of the accused was not in dispute.

The Court, therefore, restored the trial Court order and sentenced the accused to undergo rigorous imprisonment for seven years.

The Court then proceeded to note the suggestions made by Shirin Khajuria that there should be special centres for examination of vulnerable witnesses in criminal cases so as to encourage a vulnerable victim to make a statement.

“Before parting with this order we may deal with the suggestion of learned amicus that there should be special centres for examination of vulnerable witnesses in criminal cases in the interest of conducive environment in Court so as to encourage a vulnerable victim to make a statement. Such centres ought to be set up with all necessary safeguards.”

It also noted the initiative of the Delhi High Court in this regard.

“Our attention has been drawn to guidelines issued by the Delhi High Court for recording evidence of vulnerable witnesses in criminal matters and also the fact that four special centres have been set up at Delhi for the purpose…

The directions of Delhi High Court and setting up of special centres for vulnerable witnesses as noted above are consistent with the decision of this Court and supplement the same.”

The Court ordered that all High Courts may take appropriate steps in this direction and set up at least two such centres in the jurisdiction of each High Court within three months from the date of the order.