Can witnesses in a criminal case be allowed to depose via videoconferencing, particularly when they shift to a foreign country after the incident in question?
The Supreme Court has been confronted with this question after a rape accused challenged a Gujarat high court order allowing the victim and two other witnesses recording the testimonies through videoconferencing.
They had expressed their inability to come to India from Australia to depose in the case. The victim and the witnesses said they were in Australia and it was not possible for them to come to India for certain personal reasons.
Acting on accused Utsav alias Viki Rohitkumar Rao’s petition challenging the September 3, 2010 order of the high court, the Supreme Court has issued notices to the victim and the two witnesses.
It also issued notice to the Centre saying, “we consider that the Union of India should be a necessary party in this case in view of the importance of the question involved.”
“The validity of taking evidence by video conferencing is an important question since with the advancement of science and technology new methods and procedures in courts, including taking of evidence, will have to be evolved in view of the changing times,” a Bench headed by justice Markandey Katju said.
The court requested senior counsel KK Venugopal to assist it as Amicus Curiae (court’s friend) in this case to enable it to lay down the correct law on the issue.
The apex court also requested Venugopal to place before it a statement setting out the developments in various countries and the position in India in this connection detailing the areas in which science and technology had enabled courts to introduce new methods and procedures.
The Bench stayed the operation of the impugned judgement and order of the high court and asked the petitioner’s counsel to provide a copy of the petition Venugopal.
It posted the case for further hearing on January 28, 2011 after Venugopal sought for four weeks for studying the matter and preparing himself for making his submissions.