A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant expanded the definition of ‘vulnerable witnesses’ to include gender neutral survivors of sexual assault under Pocso Act, gender and age neutral sexual assault survivors under IPC, all mentally challenged witnesses, witnesses suffering from disability and termed vulnerable by competent courts and those facing threats from accused persons.
Accepting most of the suggestions of amicus curiae Vibha Datta Makhija and tweaking it to suit the justice delivery mechanism, the bench asked all HCs to notify a ‘Vulnerable Witness Deposition Scheme’ within two months, and/or modify any existing scheme to bring it in tune with the scheme enunciated by the apex court. The SC gave the Delhi HC credit for being the pioneer in framing such a scheme.
The apex court has taken a positive and much-needed step. The deadline is tight. But hopefully the job will be completed in the stipulated time.
The SC constituted a committee headed by former J&K chief justice Gita Mittal for devising a national training programme to sensitise and equip judicial officers on the nuances and norms to be observed with regard to ensuring free and barrier-free deposition by vulnerable witnesses.
It directed the the ministry of women and child developments and its counterparts in states to provide logistical and resource support to the Mittal committee in enlisting services of experts for devising the programme. The SC suggested Justice Mittal to engage the National Legal Services Authority and State Legal Services Authorities in designing the training programme.
In order to meet the financial resources requirement of the HCs, the SC directed that a senior finance department official in the state government would be made a nodal officer and ex-officio member of the HC committee. All cost estimates submitted by the HCs to states should be requisitioned within three months, it said.