Children testifying as witnesses find the courtroom experience intimidating. What steps have been taken by the government and courts towards ensuring a conducive and protective atmosphere for vulnerable witnesses. (250 words)
- Briefly introduce with the problems faced by children inside courtrooms.
- Discuss the steps like POCSO act, SC’s guidelines, Delhi HC’s guidelines, etc.
- Conclude Appropriately.
Vulnerable witnesses in criminal cases, often minor survivors of rape or victims of sex abuse end up being ill treated by the criminal justice system. They are often treated like any other witness of the State in a criminal trial. Delays and intimidating questions during trial in a hostile environment often makes the witnesses hostile. So, to protect the rights of vulnerable witnesses while testifying in a court, various steps have been taken such as:
- Laws: POCSO Act provides for child friendly procedures during a trial. Under this law, the officer recording a child’s statement should not be in uniform; also, during court proceedings steps must be taken to ensure that the child is not exposed to the accused. The court is allowed to record a child’s statement through video conferencing, or using one-way mirrors or curtains.
- SC directions: The Supreme Court has ordered setting up of at least 2 vulnerable witnesses deposition centres in the jurisdiction of every high court across the country by January 2018. The SC bench said eventually every district should have a special centre, which would provide vulnerable witnesses a friendly atmosphere to testify. SC has directed other HCs to adopt Delhi HC’s guidelines for recording the evidence of vulnerable witnesses in criminal matters.
- Delhi HC guidelines: Delhi High Court has given Guidelines for Recording the Evidence of Vulnerable Witnesses in Criminal Matters. Its main objectives include eliciting complete, accurate and reliable testimony from child witnesses, minimising harm, and preventing ‘secondary victimisation’. The practices include a screen or some arrangement by which the victim does not see the body or face of the accused; reducing cross-examination questions to writing and handing them over to the judge to be put to the victim in a language that is clear and not embarrassing; and sufficient breaks for victims of child abuse or rape while testifying.
For now, the term ‘vulnerable witnesses’ is limited to children, but the principle may have to be expanded to include adults who may be equally vulnerable to threats and an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Ideally, every district in the country would need a special deposition centre.
Subjects : Social Justice