Protecting Vulnerable Witnesses

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The Supreme Court of India recently expanded the meaning of vulnerable witnesses to include among other sexual assault victims, with mental illness and people with speech or hearing impairment. The Supreme Court referring to its verdict in 1996 and then in 2004 and 2017 passed similar directions wherein all the High Courts of India were asked to adopt the guidelines prepared by the Delhi High Court in 2017 for vulnerable witnesses.

Vulnerable Witnesses would also include Age-neutral victims of sexual assault, Gender-neutral victims of sexual assault under the section 377 IPC (unnatural offences) , Witnesses suffering from mental illness as defined in Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, Witnesses with threat perception and any speech of hearing-impaired person suffering from any other disability apart from child witnesses apart from Child witnesses.

Witness Protection Scheme

Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre (VWDC)

  • All High Courts were directed by the Supreme Court to adopt and notify a Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre (VWDC) scheme within a period of two months.
  • For recording the evidence of vulnerable witnesses, VWDC would provide a safe and barrier-free environment.
  • Each district should have at least one VWDC and the same has been asked by the Supreme court to the High Courts.
  • The establishment of these VWDC should be near the Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) centres.

Sensitizing Stakeholders

  • The SC further pointed towards the significance of conducting training programs in order to manage VWDC thereby sensitizing all stakeholders including members of the bar, bench, and staff.
  • The former Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir HC was urged by the SC to act as Chairperson of a committee for designing and implementing an All-India VWDC training program.
  • For coordinating logistical support to the Chairperson, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has been asked by the SC to designate a nodal officer.

Witness Protection in India

  • The Witness Protection Scheme 2018 was approved by the Supreme Court in 2018 with an aim to enable a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully.
  • All States and UTs were asked by the bench to set up vulnerable witness deposition complexes.
  • The SC had ordered to implement the scheme immediately in all the states while the scheme is pending in the Parliament.
  • For years, the need to ensure protection to witnesses has been emphasized by the Law Commission.
  • A witness protection scheme has been recommended by the State of Gujarat v. Anirudh Singh (1997) , 14th Law Commission Report and Malimath Committee Report.

Article 21 (Right to Life)

Right of witnesses to testify freely in courts.

Article 141 - 142 of the Constitution of India

The scheme would be the law under.

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