In an attempt to provide vulnerable witnesses with a safe and conducive environment to testify bravely during a criminal trial, the Kerala High Court will soon set up Vulnerable Witnesses Deposition Centres at all courts in the state. In a directive issued in January, the Supreme Court had asked all high courts to set up the centre.
Waiting Rooms To Lower Anxiety Of Witnesses
Vulnerable witnesses include a child below 18-years-old and age and gender-neutral survivors of sexual assault. As per the guidelines issued by the High Court, the centres will have comfort items like blankets, stuffed toys, books for the child survivors to reduce their mental pressure and trauma. In addition, there will be a live link, like audio-video electronic means, to avoid the witnesses' physical presence and face-to-face interaction with the accused.
The guidelines insist on establishing waiting rooms, which should be only used by the vulnerable witnesses and their non-offending family members and support persons. The waiting area also has to be equipped with toys, books, games, drawing and painting material, TV, etc, which can help lower witnesses' anxiety. The approach to the waiting room shall be so that it allows the witnesses to use it easily and without having to confront other litigants, police or the accused and their associates, The New Indian Express reported.
Avoid Witnesses' Exposure To Accused
The waiting area needs to be equipped with a 'digital case number display monitor' that shows the case being called in the court. "Arrangements for the vulnerable witness to depose from the waiting area, which may include screens and monitors for recording the evidence of the child, shall be made available," the guideline stated.
The vulnerable witness shall also be allowed a pre-trial courthouse tour or tour of the civil court or Juvenile Justice Board, along with the paralegal volunteer or support persons to enable the witnesses to familiarise themselves with the layout.
It will help witnesses familiarise the location of the accused in the dock, the roles of court officials, where they sit and who else might be in the court. The witness can discuss any fears, including concerns regarding safety concerning the accused, with the support of prosecutors and the judge to dispel the trauma, fear and anxiety in connection with the upcoming deposition. In the case of a survivor of a sexual offence, care should be taken to avoid exposure to the accused when recording evidence.
If the child witness or survivor is not willing to give testimony in the presence of the accused or if circumstances reveal that the child may be inhibited from speaking freely in that individual's presence, the court should give orders to temporarily shift the accused from the courtroom to another room with a video link or one-way mirror visibility into the courtroom.
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