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SC expands meaning of vulnerable witnesses

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    18th Jan, 2022

Context

The Supreme Court expanded the meaning of vulnerable witnesses to also include among others sexual assault victims, those with mental illness and people with speech or hearing impairment.

About

Who is a vulnerable witness?

  • A vulnerable witness is a  witness to an event such as an accident or crime is a person who saw it.

Issues faced by vulnerable witness

  • Vulnerable witnesses find the criminal justice system intimidating, particularly the courtroom experience. 
  • Under these circumstances, a vulnerable witness may be a poor witness, providing weak testimony and contributing less information than should have been elicited. 
  • Further, the lengthy process of navigating the formal and adversarial criminal justice system can affect the vulnerable witnesses psychological development and disable this sensitivity in significant and long-lasting ways.

The extended definition

  • The vulnerable witnesses will not be limited to mean only child witnesses, but will include
    • age-neutral victims of sexual assault
    • gender-neutral victims of sexual assault
    • age and gender neutral victims of sexual assault under section section 377 IPC (unnatural offences)
    • witnesses suffering from mental illness as defined in Mental Healthcare Act
    • witnesses with threat perception 
    • any speech or hearing impaired individual or person suffering from any other disability who is considered to be vulnerable by the court concerned
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