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Deaf,dumb can be key witness,says apex court

Gone are the days when law considered a deaf and dumb person an “idiot”,the Supreme Court said in a judgment on Monday.

Gone are the days when law considered a deaf and dumb person an “idiot”,the Supreme Court said in a judgment on Monday.

Stating that a court can bank on a deaf and dumb person as a star witness in a criminal trial,a bench of Justices B S Chauhan and Dipak Misra said statutes — the Evidence Act,for instance — have changed to embrace the scientific fact that such people are “generally found more intelligent and susceptible to higher culture than one was once supposed”.

The Evidence Act now has Section 119 that mandates that a person unable to speak can use signs or write his or her testimony,which would be deemed oral evidence,if made in open court.

“Language is much more than words… A case in point is the silent movies which were understood widely because they were able to communicate ideas to people through novel signs and gestures,” the court said.

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The bench made these observations while upholding the Rajasthan High Court’s decision to free a man sentenced to life in jail for the murder of his neighbour in Jodhpur in 2001.

The trial court had relied on the sole testimony of the victim’s deaf and dumb wife to find Darshan Singh guilty. But the High Court said she had used an interpreter who might have twisted her statements,made in sign language,to benefit the prosecution,so her testimony was not foolproof enough to send a man behind bars for life.

The Supreme Court upheld Darshan’s acquittal but differed with the observations against arraigning a deaf and dumb person as a star witness in a criminal trial.

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“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. But a dumb person need not be prevented from being a credible and reliable witness merely due to his or 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,” the court said.

First published on: 22-05-2012 at 12:48:02 am
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