The Supreme Court on Tuesday expanded the definition of “vulnerable witnesses” to include those who have been sexually assaulted and people with mental illness, among others, reported Bar and Bench. Earlier, the scope of the term was limited to children below the age of 18.

The definition of “vulnerable witnesses” would now also include those with speech or hearing impediments and a “person suffering from any other disability who is considered to be vulnerable by court concerned”, the Supreme Court said.

A Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant issued the new guidelines while hearing a plea on protection of vulnerable witnesses in compliance with a 2018 Supreme Court verdict.

In the 2018 case, the Supreme Court had issued directions for setting up special centres for examining vulnerable witnesses in criminal cases to create a “conducive environment” which would allow them to make statements before the court, according to Live Law.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Vibha Makhija submitted suggestions for implementation and setting up of “Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centres” at all High Courts.

“The vulnerable witness scheme deposition may be placed under Nalsa [National Legal Services Authority],” Makhija said. “There can be a Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre, every High Court should have such a kind of vulnerable witness deposition centre. There also needs to be continuous training which will be an ongoing subject.”

Makhija also said that former Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice Gita Mittal had made some suggestions on the matter and that she could be appointed as the chairperson for the training programme for three years.

Based on the suggestions, the court ordered that all High Courts should adopt and notify a Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre scheme within two months of the order. Every High Court should set up a permanent Vulnerable Witness Deposition Centre Committee, the order said.

The court also appointed Mittal as the chairperson of the training programme for two years.

“The Ministry of Women and Child Development shall designate a nodal officer for coordinating the implementation of these directions and facilitating logistical support to Justice Mittal,” the order said. “All such ministries on the state level shall provide financial support.”