The people who are unable to testify or give evidence to the court due
to certain additional difficulties like mental disorders, physically handicapped
or are unable to cope due to intelligence impairments, and are below 18 years of
age. They are termed as Vulnerable Witnesses.
Further, they included the categories of age-neutral victims of sexual assault,
gender-neutral victims of sexual assault, witnesses suffering from mental
illness and any witness deemed to have threat perception under the witness
protection scheme of 2018 of the Union Government.
Smruti Tukaram Badade v. State of Maharashtra and Anr (2019)
This was a special leave petition leave case - where the leave was
granted and the appeal was disposed of in terms of the signed order. The Supreme
Court has orally defined the term 'Vulnerable Witness' might not be constrained
to child witnesses alone.
Dhanraj and Ors, v. State of Maharashtra (2002)
The witness was a child of class VIII. The Supreme Court held that a
child of class VIII who is not very small will be having enough intelligence to
understand the facts and answer the questions put forward. Hence the testimony
of child was heard. It was noted that the witness has stated that he was
interrogated by the police and his statement was recorded on the date of the
incident which happened.
The State of Maharashtra v. Bandu (2018)
The victim, in this case, was a deaf and dumb 14-year-old girl who was
allegedly raped by the respondent i.e., Bandu. The High Court set aside the
conviction of the respondent on the ground that the victim was not
cross-examined. The case went to the Apex Court who held that, even though the
victim was not cross-examined, there was plenty of evidence to prove that she
was raped by the respondent.
After passing its Order, the court looked into a
suggestion stating that special examination centres must be set up for examining
vulnerable witnesses so as to make them comfortable to give their statements.
The Court further asked for the status of setting up vulnerable witness
deposition centres and pressed for the same.
Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr v. State of Gujarat & Ors (2006)
The Supreme Court held that a witness should not be forced or threatened
to give false evidence. If done so, the trial would not be considered fair. This
principle was mainly put forth for the accused in a case. Hence, to maintain
fairness in a trial, the accused should be allowed to cross-examine any number
of witnesses in a proceeding.
It is not a easy for witnesses to overcome obstacles and to give
evidence regarding the particular case. Even when they try to overcome, there
are people who try to force them and threaten them to either withdraw the case
or to conceive the truth, etc. At the time Vulnerable Witnesses play a big role
in giving the main evidence to the case, but Vulnerable witness does not mean
alone child witnesses, it could also include people who have mental disability,
etc. most people tend to confuse Child witnesses with Vulnerable witnesses.
Vulnerable Witnesses in our society are more prone to such suffering, because
they are targeted and can be easily manipulated. So, its our responsibility to
help them to overcome their obstacles by encouraging them, and their courage and
strength to overcome these, can put the accused behind the bars.
Written By: Keerthana Ajoykumar