Video conferencing facility for rape victims
Victims will be able to record testimonies without being physically present in Delhi district courts
Recounting the horrors of being sexually assaulted is an ordeal for victims particularly in court with the defence shooting off insensitive questions amid strangers. To ensure that victims give testimonies without fear or duress, the Delhi’s Department of Law, Justice & Legislative Affairs will soon install video conferencing facilities in courts.
For the first time in India, the six district courts in Delhi—Tis Hazari, Patiala House, Saket, Rohini, Dwarka, and Karkardooma—will be equipped with video conferencing system. The victim will give testimony to the Judge through a video camera which will be fed live to the courtroom where the matter is being heard. “The move will provide an opportunity to victims of rape, or exploited children to express themselves freely while being present at some other place,” says Delhi Law and Justice Minister Ramakant Goswami. “It will result in a decision according to the principle of natural justice.”
However, Anant Asthana, lawyer with the Legal Aid Cell at the Juvenile Justice Board, Kingsway Camp, believes that the move is “ill conceived”. According to our criminal justice system, a child or an adult who has been sexually or physically abused has to relive their trauma over and over again. First, the victim has to recount the incident to a police officer to register a first information report, and then the investigating officer takes the victim’s statement. Subsequently, the victim has to testify in front of a magistrate and is then cross-examined by the defence counsel. “In the tedious process, giving testimony via video only takes care of only one aspect—being present in court. What about the other stages where the victim has to repeat the traumatic incident?” asks Asthana.
One of the suggestions continuously being mooted by several child rights groups is the Gasel Chamber Model, which originated in Peru. According to the model, the victim gives statements to a counsellor inside a room while the Magistrate, lawyers, and investigating officer are present in a chamber adjacent to the room. A mirrored glass pane separates the rooms giving the victim privacy and security while all other concerned persons can watch and listen to what is being said.
Rajat Mitra, who is a clinical psychologist dealing primarily with rape victims, believes that changing the physical environment won’t help unless Judges and lawyers are trained to be more sympathetic when dealing with such sensitive cases. “The courtroom shouldn’t be avoided; it should be a place where victims feel empowered to speak their mind. Lawyers and Judges should be trained in proper methods of questioning; otherwise, the video conferencing system will be futile.”
Besides dealing with rape cases, the department was assessing other difficulties encountered during hearings to ensure smooth functioning of courts, Goswami added.
Editing by Aninda Dey