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Supreme Court expands definition of vulnerable witnesses, calls for deposition centres in all High Courts

Based on the deliberations that took place in Court and the suggestions put forth by the amicus curiae and advocates appearing for various High Courts, the following directions were issued:

1. The definition of vulnerable witness in clause 3 of VWVDC scheme formed by Delhi High Court would not be limited to child witnesses, and will include:

a) age neutral victims of sexual assault

b) gender neutral victims of sexual assault

c) age and gender neutral victims of sexual assault u/s 377

d) witnesses suffering from mental illness as defined in the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017

e) any witness seen to have a threat perception under the Central government Scheme

f) any speech or hearing impaired individual or person suffering from any other disability who is considered to be vulnerable by the court concerned.

2. All High Courts shall adopt and notify a a VWDC scheme within a period of two months of this order unless a scheme is already notified. High Courts with existing schemes may consider modification according to the present order.

3. Every High Court should set up a permanent VWDC Committee.

4. Every High Court is requested to give an estimate of man power required to have VWDCs in the entire state in a period of three months.

5. Having due regard to the importance of conducting training programs to manage VWDC and sensitizing all stakeholders including Bar, Bench and staff, Justice Gita Mittal, former Chief Justice of J&K High Court, is requested to act as chairperson of committee for designing and implementing an all-india VWDC training program. Initial tenure of the chairperson shall be for 2 years. All High Courts shall facilitate and give full cooperation in conducting training programs on terms of the modules prepared by the chairperson.

6. Upon the estimation of cost prepared by the VWDC of each High Court, State government shall sanction adequate funds. The State government shall nominate a nodal officer from the finance department who shall be associated with the work of the VWDC Committee of the High Court.

7. High Court should ensure there is one centre in each district. In many states, ADR centres have been set up in close proximity to the court. Where such centres are in place, the High Court will be at liberty to ensure that a VWDC is made available within the premises of the ADR centre.

8. NALSA shall have a vital role to play especially in sensitizing programs. Chairperson of committee appointed by this Court is requested to engage with NALSA and SALSAs to provide an effective interface for schemes of training.

9. The Ministry of Women and Child Development shall designate a nodal officer for coordinating the implementation of these directions and facilitating logistical support to Justice Mittal. All such ministries on the state level shall provide financial support.”

Source: Barandbench

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