“Testimony of disabled Prosecutrix cannot be considered weak:” Apex Court lays down Guidelines to make Justice system disabled-friendly[Read Judgement]

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In a significant judgment , the ApexCourt on Tuesday ruled that testimony of a prosecutrix with disability or of a disabled witness cannot be considered weak or inferior only because such an individual interacts with the world in a different manner, vis-a-vis their able-bodied counterparts

The bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah issued Guidelines in Patan Jamal Vali v. State of Andhra Pradesh.

While changes in the law on the books mark a significant step forward, much work still needs to be done in order to ensure that their fruits are realized by those for whose benefit they were brought. In this regard, we set out below some guidelines to make our criminal justice system more disabled-friendly.

  • The National Judicial Academy and state judicial academies are requested to sensitize trial and appellate judges to deal with cases involving survivors of sexual abuse. This training should acquaint judges with the special provisions, concerning such survivors, such as those outlined above. It should also cover guidance on the legal weight to be attached to the testimony of such witnesses/survivors, consistent with our holding above. Public prosecutors and standing counsel should also undergo similar training in this regard. The Bar Council of India can consider introducing courses in the LL.B program that cover these topics and the intersectional nature of violence more generally;
  • Trained special educators and interpreters must be appointed to ensure the effective realization of the reasonable accommodations embodied in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013. All police stations should maintain a database of such educators, interpreters and legal aid providers, in order to facilitate easy access and coordination;  Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “Concluding Observations on the Initial Report Of India”,
  • The National Crimes Record Bureau should seriously consider the possibility of maintaining disaggregated data on gender-based violence. Disability must be one of the variables on the basis of which such data must be maintained so that the scale of the problem can be mapped out and tailored remedial action can be taken;
  • Police officers should be provided sensitization, on a regular basis, to deal with cases of sexual violence against women with disabilities, in an appropriate way. The training should cover the full life cycle of a case involving a disabled survivor, from enabling them to register complaints, obtain necessary accommodations, medical attention and suitable legal representation. This training should emphasize the importance of interacting directly with the disabled person concerned, as opposed to their care-taker or helper, in recognition of their agency; and
  • Awareness-raising campaigns must be conducted, in accessible formats, to inform women and girls with disabilities, about their rights when they are at the receiving end of any form of sexual abuse.

Case Background

This appeal arises from a judgment of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh affirming the conviction of the appellant for offences punishable under Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 19891 and Section 376(1) of the Indian Penal Code.

The court noted that, in this case, the defense sought to cast doubt on the testimony of the prosecutrix by arguing that she would have been unable to identify the accused due to her disability.

Referring to a judgment in Mange v. State of Haryana [AIR 1979 SC 1194], the court said that there have been instances where the testimony of a disabled prosecutrix has not been considered seriously and treated at an equal footing as that of their abled bodied counterparts.

The court finally set aside the conviction of the accused under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC and ST Act but upheld the conviction and life sentence sentence punishable under Section 376 IPC.

Read Judgement here: