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Vulnerable witnesses: Supreme Court asks Chief Justices of HCs to respond within 6 weeks on VWDC guidelines

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The Supreme Court on Friday has given six weeks’ time to the Chief Justices of High Courts to respond to the model guidelines on establishment of Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centres (VWDCs) which was issued to them on March 11, 2022.

The bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Aniruddha Bose appreciated the efforts and steps taken in this regard by Justice Ms. Gita Mittal for heading the committee which prepared the report devising and implementing an All-India VWDC training Programme besides engaging with the High Courts on creation of infrastructure for Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centres.

The bench was hearing the plea of prosecutrix Smruti Tukaram Badade, pertaining to the establishment of the vulnerable witness court rooms in district courts of all states, to facilitate a conducive environment for recording statements of vulnerable witnesses. Badade had filed a miscellaneous application seeking clarification of the directions passed by the bench earlier. 

The suggestions from the chief justices will be studied before finalizing the guidelines, opined Justice Chandrachud.

Justice Chandrachud was of the view that another aspect highlighted in reports was on the use of VWDCs in criminal cases allowed in other jurisdictions, family courts, juvenile justice boards, children courts. The prototype containing drawings and guidelines done by committee has been forwarded to High Courts so that it can be borne in mind while setting up of VWDCs.

Aditi Chaudhary, Registrar in Vigilance Department of Delhi High Court, along with amicus curiae Vibha Makhija, submitted before the bench that for proper training in VWDCs, aid of international experts is necessary.

To which, Justice Chandrachud responded by stating that such international experts may join through online mode or in case of physical mode, they can seek directions from the Ministry of Child and Welfare.

Justice Chandrachud submitted that Justice Gita Mittal has taken corrective measures. Now the chairperson has now prepared draft rules which is circulated to high courts.

Amicus Curiae Makhija argued that the problem is that it limits to only criminal courts. The SOP is only for criminal courts.

Justice Chandrachud stated, ” I have perused Para 9 of Justice Gita Mittal report.”  

Makhija argued, “I also feel senior citizens get intimidated in courts. They are also vulnerable if they are also included in vulnerable witnesses. For training purposes, experts required from all over the world. For example in Australia, deposition complex/court rooms and its functioning are world class.’

J. Chandrachud states that so far as requirement of experts from abroad is concerned, they can join through online mode also.

Aditi Chaudhary, the Registrar (Vigilance) of Delhi High Court, submitted that second report is about prototypes. “Such facility is already working efficiently in Saket and Karkardooma courts. Pipeline documentary is being prepared in training personnel on how to work in VWDC. It is going to be more in hybrid manner.”

Makhija apprised the court that first plan is with regard to access. Access should not be mixed access between the witness and PWs or the accused. The other plan will show where the mic is to be placed, partition is to be placed, category of witnesses is worked here.  And for child witnesses, special steps taken out.

Justice Chandrachud said in compliance with Bindu Judgment, the steps are being taken out in effective manner. “We will give short order. Copy of report to be provided to committee comprising of Justice Gita Mittal.”

Earlier, the bench of Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M.R. Shah on October 4, 2019 issued notices to all High Courts through Registrars seeking status with regard to establishment of VWDC court rooms, in compliance with directions of
this Court in State of Maharashtra Vs. Bandu, reported in (2018) 11 SCC 163.

Certain directions were passed on March 11, 2022 for all the High Courts such as: –

  1. High Courts shall adopt and notify a Vulnerable Witnesses Deposition Centres Scheme within a period of two months from the date of this order unless a scheme is already notified.
  2. Every High Court should set up an in-house permanent VWDC Committee.
  3. Every High Court is requested to make an estimation of costs towards manpower and infrastructure required to set up at least one permanent VWDC in every establishment of the District Court (or additional Sessions Court establishments) and estimate the optimal number of VWDCs required for the
    entire State within a period of three months;
  4. Upon the estimation of costs prepared by the VWDC Committee of each High Court, the State Government shall expeditiously sanction the requisite funds within a period of three months from the date of the submission of the proposal or the end of the financial year, whichever is earlier, and disburse the funds to the High Court in accordance with the project plan.

In the main criminal appeal, the petitioner had sought transfer of the criminal proceedings pending under Sections 376, 342, 323 and 506(2) read with 34 IPC against Vijay Laxman Chougle from the Court of the Additional Sessions Judge, Thane to the Court of the Sessions Judge, Mumbai. The court disposed of the appeal by giving certain directions: –

  1. The Sessions Judge, Thane shall take necessary steps to ensure in-camera proceedings.
  2. On the date or dates on which the evidence of petitioner has to be recorded, Vijay Laxman Chougle shall apply for exemption from personal appearance before the learned Sessions Judge;
  3. Petitioner and second respondent would ensure that no unnecessary adjournments are taken and that they will cooperate in the recording of evidence and in the conclusion of the trial expeditiously.

MISCELLANEOUS APPLICATION ARISING OUT OF MAIN CRIMINAL APPEAL : –

The division bench of Justices Chandrachud and Surya Kant while disposing of the appeal filed by Smruti Badade gave certain finding and passed directions in view of the apex court judgment passed in Bandu case.

  1. A committee comprising the chairman chaired by Justice Gita Mittal was constituted who shall devise and implement an All India VWDC Training Programme, besides engaging with the High Courts on the Creation of infrastructure for VWDCs. The term was fixed for 2 years.
  2. On the estimation of costs prepared by the VWDC Committee of each High Court, the State Government shall expeditiously sanction the requisite funds within a period of three months from the date of the submission of the proposal or the end of the financial year, whichever is earlier, and disburse the funds to the High Court in accordance with the project plan.
  3. The High Courts shall ensure that at least one permanent VWDC is set up in every District Court establishment (or additional Sessions Court establishments) within a period of four months. The Registrars General of the High Courts shall file compliance reports before this Court.

In State of Maharashtra v Bandu, the directions passed were to be followed in Badade case as well. The first idea was not to include only child witness but also other following categories of people as elucidated below in definition of ‘Vulnerable Witness’ mentioned in clause 3(a) of Guidelines for recording Evidence of vulnerable witness in criminal matters of Delhi High Court – Such includes:

  1. Age neutral victims of sexual assault read with Sections 273 and 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 and Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code 1860;
  2. Gender neutral victims of sexual assault read with Section 2(d) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012;
  3.  Age and gender neutral victims of sexual assault under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 read with paragraph 34(1) of the decision in Sakshi (supra);

  4. Witnesses suffering from “mental illness” as defined under Section 2(s) of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 read with Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872;

  5.  Any witness deemed to have a threat perception under the Witness Protection Scheme 2018 of the Union Government as approved by this Court in Mahender Chawla v Union of India,
  6.  Any speech or hearing impaired individual or a person suffering from disability who is considered to be a vulnerable witness by the any other  competent court;
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