Skype as tool to examine witnesses in criminal trials?

  • Bhadra Sinha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 05, 2015 10:08 IST

Can the use of Skype under video-conferencing technology be permitted to examine a witness in a criminal trial? The Supreme Court will examine this issue on Monday when it hears an appeal filed by a rape accused who has opposed recording of the complainant’s statement through Skype on the ground it would prejudice his case.

The victim is an Irish citizen and the 2003 rape case is pending in the Alipur fast-track court. Both the trial court and the Calcutta High Court have allowed the victim to depose from Ireland through Skype, saying it was similar to video-conferencing.

But accused Sujoy Mitra complained about the poor video quality on Skype. He accused the victim of using unfair means while deposing and said the complainant deposed for the first time from her house. Only after his lawyers protested did the woman go to the Indian embassy to get herself examined.

Mitra’s lawyer, Manoj V George, told HT: “Ideally, in this case video-conferencing should not have been allowed. Evidence by video conferencing in open court should be only if the witness is in a country which has an extradition treaty with India and under whose laws contempt of court and perjury are also punishable. India does not have any such treaty with Ireland. If the complainant is later found to have told a lie, how will she be prosecuted?”

Last week, a bench headed by justice JS Kehar heard Mitra’s case. It did not seem inclined to give him any relief but later agreed to determine whether or not Skype was the correct mode of video-conferencing.

George said: “Unlike video-conferencing – where the prosecutor, judge, defence counsel and accused are able to see each other simultaneously – Skype is a one-to-one chat. It is not possible to cross-examine the witness properly through it.”

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