Delhi HC moots ‘pragmatic and liberal approach’ in allowing witnesses to depose through Video Conferencing [Read Judgment]

Delhi HC moots ‘pragmatic and liberal approach’ in allowing witnesses to depose through Video Conferencing [Read Judgment]


“There may be situations where a witness even though within the city may still want the evidence to be recorded through video conferencing in order to save time or avoid inconvenience, the Court should take a pragmatic view”, the Bench said.


Delhi High Court in International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) vs. Madhu Bala Nath has observed that Courts must be liberal and pragmatic in allowing the witnesses to depose through Video conferencing. Division Bench of Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Badar Durrez Ahmed said that Court should make use of modern technology so as to further the process of dispensation of justice.

Context

The Single Judge of the High Court had rejected the application seeking permission to record through audio and video link, the testimony of the sole witness, Ms. Rosalind Miller who is based at London and is unable to travel to Delhi for her cross-examination. This order by the Single judge was assailed before the Division Bench of the High Court.

Courts should adopt procedure which facilitates dispensing speedier justice

 The Division bench said that the Single Judge erred in not noticing the development of law and technology that has taken place over the years. The court added that Civil Procedure Code is a procedural Code which are subservient to justice and with the development of law and technology, the Courts have to use procedure, which facilitates it in dispensing speedier justice.

Apex Court ruling in State of Maharashtra v. Dr Praful B. Desai : AIR 2003 (4) SCC 601, wherein it was held that the term “presence” in Section 273 of CrPC, cannot be it interpreted to mean actual physical presence in Court, was also referred to, by the Division Bench in this context. The Constitution and existing laws have to be looked into for discerning challenges thrown up due to emerging technological innovations. They have to be interpreted keeping this dynamic in mind, the Bench said.

Deposition through video conferencing as good as that in Court

The Court also, elucidating the advantages of allowing witnesses to depose via video conferencing, said “Except for touching, one can see, hear and observe as if the party is in the same room. In videoconferencing both parties are in the presence of each other. The demeanour of the witness can be observed. In fact, the facility to playback would enable better observation of demeanour. The deposition of the witness can be heard and reheard. The facility of playback would give an added advantage whilst cross-examining the witness. The witness can be confronted with documents or other material or statement in the same manner as if he/she was in court.”

The Court however clarified that the above liberal view taken by the Court does not mean that a witness can never be called to Court and there may be circumstances or situations where physical presence of a witness may be necessary and required by the Court, in such situations it would be obligatory on the witness to be present in Court.

Hardships faced by witnesses

The Court also highlighted the hardships and inconvenience faced by witnesses who often have to spend several hours in Court waiting for the case to reach and the proceedings to commence. The court said that Witnesses are the real backbone of the proceedings, the Bench said “Witnesses have to be treated with due respect and are not to be put to any inconvenience merely because they agree to testify. To insist on the witness travelling to Court and waiting for hours may not be judicious.”

Even witnesses within city may be allowed to depose through video conferencing

The Court also observed that merely because a witness is travelling over the world and/or may have the financial resources to travel to India does not necessarily imply that the Court must insist upon the witness personally coming to the Court. “There may be situations where a witness even though within the city may still want the evidence to be recorded through video conferencing in order to save time or avoid inconvenience, the Court should take a pragmatic view”, the Bench said.

The Court said that the instant application seems to be justified and has issued various directives on how to conduct the examination through video conferencing.

Views of other High Courts

The Division Bench of Madras High Court last year had conducted the court proceedings over Skype from Chennai for the first time in a case related to 89 inmates of an unauthorized private children’s Home for girls run by Mose Ministries in Tiruchi. The High Court of Kerala has also held that even though there are no arrangements between the Government of India and the Government of a foreign country under S.285(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) it would not be a bar for examining a witness by video conferencing.
An Rape accused had approached the Supreme Court against the Calcutta High Court order permitting the victim to depose from Ireland by video conferencing through Skype and the matter is pending in the Apex court.

Read the Judgment here.