New Delhi: Courts must take due care when a differently-abled person who may have a limited vocabulary is being cross-examined and should protect such witnesses from being unfairly dealt with, the Delhi High Court has said.
The disability of such a witness does not affect his or her credibility, the High Court said, stressing it was the duty of a judge to control the cross-examination of such witnesses to prevent any abuse and protect them from being "unfairly dealt with".
"When a deaf and dumb witness is under cross-examination, the court is required to take due care of the fact that vocabulary of such a person is limited as he or she speaks through sign language and it may not be possible for that witness to answer, or in detail explain every answer by sign language," Justice Mukta Gupta said.
"This disability of a limited vocabulary of sign language does not affect either the competence or the credibility of such a witness. The court is required to exercise control over the cross-examination keeping in view the ability of witness to answer the questions," the judge said.
The judgement came on an appeal filed by a man challenging his conviction and six-year jail term awarded by a trial court under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2002, for sexually assaulting a 12-year -old differently-abled girl.
The high court altered the sentence to five-year jail term along with a fine of Rs 10,000.
In its verdict, the high court noted that testimony of the victim "through her sign language inspires confidence and is sufficient to prove the offence" committed by the man.
It observed that though the girl was differently-abled, she was able to explain the incident through drawing.
"A party cross-examining a deaf and dumb witness like any other witness is required to act within the bounds of law and cannot be permitted to cross-examine the witness all and sundry on irrelevant questions," it noted.
According to the police, the man had sexually assaulted the girl in February 2013 when she had gone to throw garbage in a dustbin. The girl returned home in a perturbed condition after freeing herself from the clutches of the man.
When her mother asked her, she explained by sign language that the man had molested her near the dustbin. After this, they went to the spot where the girl pointed towards the man who was apprehended, the police said.