MADURAI: In an attempt to take the criminal justice system in the State to the next level, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has issued directions to the government to enable audio/video recording of statements and evidence of witnesses at lower courts.
The 48-page order was passed by a bench comprising Justices S Vaidyanathan and N Anand Venkatesh, as a solution to address increasing incidents of ‘witnesses turning hostile.’
It can be divided into recording of statement of witnesses (i) by police at the time of investigation, (ii) by the magistrate before commencement of trial, (iii) recording of evidence of witnesses at sessions court and (iv) Witness Protection Scheme.
With regard to recording of statements by the police, the judges said the Supreme Court is currently dealing with the matter and it is best to await the apex court’s decision.
In the meantime, the judges sought for a definite action plan from the State police about ways to implement the already available provisions under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in connection with the above matter, within three months.
As regards recording of statements through electronic means by a magistrate, the judges directed the government to ensure that necessary facilities are provided at all magistrate courts, mahila courts and sessions courts within three months, along with arrangements for storing and preserving the electronic data in the respective courts.
Similar directions were issued in connection with audio/video recording of evidence at sessions courts. Though there are no specific provisions covering the same, the judges said, "In cases involving heinous offences punishable with imprisonment of 10 years and above and also offences against women and children, evidence which is recorded in the court must also be recorded through audio-video means. Such recorded version can form part of the court records."
The Bench further observed, "Unless the Witness Protection Scheme is implemented, the audio-video electronic means cannot be effectively brought into force as it may expose the witnesses to a larger threat."
Recalling that the Supreme Court had directed the State government to implement the scheme by the end of 2019, the judges directed the State to file a status report in that regard, in addition to status reports on the above three sets of directions, at the next hearing on April 1, 2020. Earlier, the judges thanked the advocates and police officers for their inputs in the matter.