NEW DELHI: In an important ruling the Delhi High Court came to the rescue of a hearing and speech impaired witness and said that when such a witness is cross-examined, the court is required to take due care of the fact that vocabulary of such a person is limited as he or she speaks via sign language.
The court held that for such a witness it may not be possible to answer in detail everything by sign language. And this disability of limited vocabulary of sign language does not affect either the competence or the credibility of such a witness.
The ruling came in the case in which a 12-year-old deaf and mute girl as sexually assaulted by the accused, who convicted under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2002.
Justice Mukta Gupta while disposing an appeal by the accused quoted the apex court ruling which stated, “Language is much more than words. Like all other languages, communication by way of signs has some inherent limitations, since it may be difficult to comprehend what the user is attempting to convey. But a speech impaired person need not be prevented from being a credible and reliable witness merely due to his/her physical disability. Such a person though unable to speak may convey himself through writing, if literate or through signs and gestures, if he is unable to read and write.”
“Such a person is a competent witness. If in the opinion of the court, oath can be administered to him/her, it should be so done. Such a witness, if able to read and write, it is desirable to record his statement giving him questions in writing and seeking answers in writing. In case the witness is not able to read and write, his statement can be recorded in sign language. In case the interpreter is provided, he should be a person of the same surrounding but should not have any interest in the case and he should be administered oath,” the court said while sentencing the accused to five years jail.