The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Video witnesses come of age

New Delhi, April 2: Heralding a new era in criminal jurisprudence, the Supreme Court today ruled that evidence of witnesses staying abroad can be recorded through video conferencing.

A division bench of Justices S.N. Variava and B.N. Agrawal said “new advancement of science and technology permit officials of the courts, in the city where video conferencing is to take place, to record the evidence”.

The issue came up before the apex court in a case of medical negligence from Maharashtra. The husband of the victim had wanted the evidence of a US doctor to be recorded through video conferencing, but Bombay High Court had negated his plea.

When the appeal came up before the apex court, which had allowed filing petitions online earlier, it set aside the high court’s decision. “Advancement in science and technology has now made it possible to record such evidence by way of video conferencing,” the judges said.

The ruling, which does away with the old practice that did not recognise such recordings as evidence, is the latest in a series of steps by the Supreme Court to put India’s judicial system on a par with that of developed nations. The apex court’s records are computer-linked and even processing of cases is done through computers to avoid delay in listings and hearings. The court’s decisions are also available online.

According to today’s ruling, the video recording of evidence has to be done before the designated magistrate or an officer appointed for the purpose. The court also said the video conferencing should be done with the expertise of VSNL and the costs, as far as possible, “must” be borne by the state.

The judges said the respondent and his lawyers should be present with relevant documents while a witness is deposing during the video conferencing. The respondent will have full opportunity to cross-examine such witnesses, the bench added.

For witnesses staying in a foreign country, an officer “would have to be deputed either from India or from the consulate/embassy in the country where the evidence is being recorded”. The officer deputed would remain present “when the evidence is being recorded”. The officer, the court said, “will ensure that the witness is not coached/tutored/prompted”.

“It would be advisable, though not necessary, that the witness be asked to give evidence in a room in the consulate/embassy,” the court added.

If the witness had “perjured”, the court would ignore or disbelieve the evidence, the judges said. They pointed out that perjuries were committed even in cases when foreign witnesses had deposed before a court in person. So video conferencing of evidence could not be said to amount to perjury all the time, they said.

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