New Delhi, May 21 - The testimony of deaf and dumb witnesses can by relied upon by courts as they are competent and signs and gestures are admissible piece of evidence, the Supreme Court today ruled.
Interpreting Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act, a bench of justices B S Chauhan and Dipak Misra said testimony of such witnesses is valid as long as the same in done in an intelligible manner to the satisfaction of the court.
"Signs and gestures made by nods or head are admissible and such nods and gestures are not only admissible but possess evidentiary value.
"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.
"To sum up, a deaf and dumb person is a competent witness. If in the opinion of the court, oath can be administered to him/her, it should be so done. Such a witness, if able to read and write, it is desirable to record his statement giving him questions in writing and seeking answers in writing," Justice Chauhan writing the judgement said.
The apex court passed the ruling while dismissing an appeal filed by the Rajasthan government against the acquittal of a convict Darshan Singh in a murder case in Rajasthan's Jodhpur district.
Darshan was charged with the murder of Kaku Singh on May 4, 2001 at the instigation of the former's sister with whom the deceased reportedly had a intimacy. Geeta, the deaf and dumb wife of Kaku, was the star witness on whose testimony Darshan was sentenced to life imprisonment by a fast track sessions court.
However, the high court acquitted Darshan following which the state filed the appeal.
The apex court while holding that deaf and dumb persons are competent witnesses, however, felt that the high court had rightly acquitted Darshan of the charges as the statement of Geeta who had made the same through her father as interpreter was nor made under an oath.
"Be that as it may, her statement had been recorded with the help of her father as an interpreter, who for the reasons given by the high court, being an interested witness who had assisted during the trial, investigation and was examined without administering oath, made the evidence unreliable.
"In such a fact-situation, the high court has rightly given the benefit of doubt and acquitted the respondent," the bench said.
The apex court however, rejected the argument of the defence that testimony of a deaf and dumb person was not valid under law.
Citing its earlier judgement in the MP Sharma & Ors.vs Satish Chandra, district magistrate, Delhi (1954), the apex court said a person can be a witness not merely by giving oral evidence but also by producing documents or making intelligible gestures as in the case of a dumb witness.
"The object of enacting the provisions of Section 119 of the Evidence Act reveals that deaf and dumb persons were earlier contemplated in 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.
"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 bench said. PTI