Deaf-mute can be credible witness: Apex court

The SC has said that deaf and mute people can testify in court

The Supreme Court said that a speech and hearing impaired person need not be prevented from being presented as a witness in court merely on account of his physical disability. The court explained that a deaf and mute person can testify in writing or through gestures.

The court said this while upholding the Rajasthan High Court's verdict of May 29, 2005 by which it had quashed the conviction of murder accused Darshan Singh.

The apex court bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Dipak Misra said: "…a dumb person need not be prevented from being a credible and reliable witness merely due to his/her physical disability. Such a person though unable to speak may convey himself through writing if literate or through signs and gestures if he is unable to read and write."

"Language is much more than words. Like all other languages, communication by way of signs has some inherent limitations, since it may be difficult to comprehend what the user is attempting to convey," said the court.

Justice Chauhan said: "When a deaf and dumb person is examined in the court, the court has to exercise due caution and take care to ascertain before he is examined that he possesses the requisite amount of intelligence and that he understands the nature of an oath."

The witness may be administered oath by appropriate means and that may also be with the assistance of an interpreter, said Justice Chauhan.

In case the said deaf and mute person is literate, the court opined that writing down a testimony could be a more credible method than sign language. "The law required that there must a record of signs and not the interpretation of signs," the court said.

Finding no infirmity in a dumb witness tendering evidence, the court said that the object of enacting the provisions of Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act reveals that deaf and dumb people were earlier contemplated by law as idiots.

"However, such a view has subsequently been changed for the reason that modern science revealed that persons affected with such calamities are generally found more intelligent, and to be susceptible to far higher culture than one was once supposed," said the court.

To buttress its conclusion, the court referred to the era of silent movies where the theme of the film was expressed through gestures and the expression and was widely understood by the audiences.

Darshan Singh was sentenced to life term in 2003 for killing Kuku Singh on the evidence of the victim's deaf-mute widow Geeta. The high court set aside the trial court's conviction, giving the benefit of the doubt to Darshan Singh.


Updated Date: May 22, 2012 11:11 AM

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