The Delhi High Court recently ordered the Delhi Government to provide infrastructure and financial assistance to procure essential electronic gadgets so that an accused with “special needs can participate equally in the judicial proceedings”.
A single judge bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma in its August 24 order said, “The installation of such gadgets and infrastructure will ensure that persons with disabilities will be able to better understand and meaningfully participate in the judicial proceedings, whether criminal or civil”.
While passing directions Justice Sharma observed, “No citizen in this country should feel that due to his physical or mental disability, justice was not done to him either due to lack of material infrastructure or moral, ethical, sensitive and understanding by the judicial system and Court”.
Justice Sharma said a person with a disability whether an accused or litigant is entitled to an equal and fair trial.
The bench also directed the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) to prepare a comprehensive scheme including the mode and way accused persons with disabilities will be able to access justice.
“Secretary, DSLSA will also formulate a scheme for the benefit of accused persons with disabilities for their communication and better understanding of their cases and proceedings before the Court by acquiring the latest assistive technology. In this regard, they will consult the necessary stakeholders and will furnish such a list and scheme within one month to this Court as well as to the Secretary, Department of Law, Justice and Legislative Affairs, Government of NCT of Delhi, for the execution of this noble purpose,” the Court said.
Justice Sharma further asked the Registrar General, High Court, to explore the possibility of a room on the lines of a “vulnerable witness room”, for accused persons with disabilities who are unable to access the Courts and the justice system with equality and dignity. The judge said the Registrar General will also consider making interim arrangements in this regard.
“To increase awareness among the public at large and to inform them about the availability of resources to ensure accessibility to justice to accused persons with disabilities, a Nodal Officer or any such person who can be contacted in this regard be appointed by the concerned District Judge and the phone number of the said official/person be mentioned on the website of every District Court as well as this Court,” said the bench.
The bench ordered the government to comply with the directions within three months and asked the Secretary, DSLSA, to file a compliance report within a month.
The directions came in a man’s plea with a hearing disability since childhood and post-traumatic stress disorder-induced cataracts, as well as post-traumatic fractured maligned jaw joint stiffness. He had sought directions to the Delhi government to constitute a Special Court as per Section 84 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, and to make arrangements for him during the criminal trial that he is facing.
The man’s wife filed several complaints with the police against him alleging verbal and physical cruelty after matrimonial differences arose between them in 2012 after 17 years of marriage.
The man said a chargesheet in the FIR was registered for an offence punishable under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 498A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) against him and the case is pending trial.
He said he was not able to understand and participate in the trial proceedings due to his disabilities, as the court setup does not support a person with a disability.
With regard to the man’s prayer for the constitution of a special court, the High Court said the Delhi Government had notified that every court of Additional Sessions Judge-02 in each district will be the “special court‟ to try offences under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. With regard to his prayer seeking several facilities during the course of proceedings before the trial court the HC directed that the “trial court proceedings be stayed for a period of six months”.
Senior advocate N Hariharan was appointed as Amicus Curiae to assist the court and he also provided suggestions.
The court complex and buildings should be disabled friendly, not only as far as their entry and exit are concerned, but the courtrooms should also be disabled friendly and therefore should be a clear indication for designated courtrooms, the HC said.
“At times, Courts may experience cases of hidden disabilities or invisible illness such as autism or psychological disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, for instance, some people with visual or auditory disabilities who do not wear glasses or hearing aids may not appear to be disabled,” the HC said.
“It is, therefore, essential that the persons involved at the pre-trial stage, whether police officials or lawyers or judges are adequately trained to recognise those forms of disability that are not immediately apparent and to accommodate any needs that may arise.”