Thiruvananthapuram, Feb18, (BPNS)
A first-of-its-kind permanent Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre (VWDC) in Kerala will come up at the Vanchiyoor Court Complex, Thiruvananthapuram. The estimated cost of the project has been pegged as Rs 2.19 crores. The decision has come in the wake of a Supreme Court judgment in January 2022 which ordered all the high courts to ensure at least one permanent VWDC.
It was in June 2022, that the Registrar (District Judiciary), of Kerala High Court, submitted a proposal for the construction of VWDC at Vachiyoor. The Home Department has now approved the same.
It was a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant who directed the setting up of VWDC. A committee with former Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Gita Mittal as chairperson was also formed by the apex court for designing and implementing an all-India VWDC training programme for managing such centres and sensitizing all the stakeholders including judicial officers, members of the bar and staff of the court establishments.
The apex court then expanded the definition of a vulnerable witness in a criminal case.
The ‘vulnerable witness’ who earlier used to be a child below the age of 18, now includes,
– Age-neutral & Gender-neutral victims of sexual assault
– Witnesses suffering from mental illness as defined in Mental Healthcare Act
– Witnesses with threat perception and any speech or hearing-impaired individual
– A person with other disabilities is considered vulnerable by the court
It was the Delhi High Court that first formulated the VWDC scheme.
The court, while expanding the definition of vulnerable witness, also directed the high courts to ensure at least one permanent Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre in every District Court establishment or Additional Sessions Court
The Vulnerable Witness Deposition Scheme aims at providing safety to vulnerable witnesses based on threat assessment and protection measures. India’s first Witness Protection Scheme was introduced in the year 2018. It was drawn by the central government to ensure protection to the witnesses who may be intimidated or frightened to give evidence.