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Child Witness: Evidentiary Value of their Deposition

A child witness is a witness who is under 18 years of age. A child of three years or less might not be a competent witness. The child may be accepted in testimony when aged 7 years or less than 18 years. However, a child witness should be examined as per their ability in reasoning and comprehension before testifying deposition. When asking a question to the child witness and getting an answer from it, the Judge shall keep a record of the said questions and answers.

This is crucial as the appellate court can rule on the part of the lower court judge who allowed the child witness testimony. Evidence of child witness without recording the preliminary examination shall not be admitted or read in evidence.

The same stands true for the case of the infirm, insane and the elderly witnesses with intellectual disability. In any case, a mere deposition of an adult concerning the matters allegedly observed in his childhood cannot be immediately admitted. The same shall be subject to verification, for the impressions obtained by the child may not be lasting and may also be imaginary.

Various factors could affect the reliability of a child witness such as their age, mental level as well as ability to speak properly. Age is generally not specified as the point of when a child becomes a reliable or unreliable witness in legal contexts. However, courts consider the child's competence and truthfulness on case-to-case basis.

What courts normally look at include for example the level of perception, ability for remembering an event, communication as well as the level they can distinguish between truth and falsehood for a child. Moreover, the attitude of the child, consistency in the statements, as well as the existence of external influences or training are considered.

Finally, courts determine whether or not any particular child can be relied upon as a witness on individual basis. This might involve bringing in professionals like forensic psychologists who may assess the child's competence and help shed light on the credibility of their testimony.

Child witnesses are people normally below the age of eighteen who provide evidence or information in a court matter. Child witnesses are an essential aspect of court processes especially related with child maltreatment, domestic violence and other violations.

Legal systems acknowledge the unique vulnerability of children and take specific actions aimed at protecting them throughout the court proceedings. These include hiring qualified personnel such as forensic interviewers or child psychiatrists to carry out age-sensitive language and investigative techniques in the interviews.

Additionally, courts can implement supportive environments, in camera or closed room proceedings, or allow for testimonial rooms to reduce anxiety and safeguard the child's privacy. In the legal context, the aim is to strike a delicate balance between the need for evidence and child's emotional and psychological health.

When a child goes into the witness box the practice is for the Judge to ask a few preliminary questions of a general nature to see if the child is capable of understanding questions, give rational answers, and has a rough idea of the difference between truth and falsehood.
Court Judgments:
  • Where a young child is a witness, the first step for the judge is to satisfy himself that the child is a competent witness. AIR 1952 Bhopal 25
  • It was ruled in Ratan Senkh Dalkhu Bhee v. State of Gujarat (2004) 1 SCC 64, that a child of tender age may be permitted to testify provided such child comprehends the question posed to him and ultimately, it is up to the trial judge to make a decision based on whether the child witness has enough intelligence to answer the questions or not.
  • The evidence of a child witness if found competent to depose and reliable could be the basis of conviction even in the absence of oath. Dattu Ramrao Sakhara v. State of Maharashtra, (1997) 5 SCC 341
  • A child of 6 or 7 years is a competent witness if it appears from his deposition that it can understand the questions put to it and give rational answers thereto. AIR 1953 Pat. 246
  • Trial court not conducting any preliminary examination of the witness with a view to determine whether the child was able to understand the questions and give rational answers, the child shall be treated as incompetent witness. 1982 Raj. Civ.C.141
  • It is a sound role in practice not to act on the uncorroborated evidence of a child whether sworn in or unsworn but this is a rule of prudence and not of law. AIR 1946 PC 3
  • Child witness contradicting other witness is not credible witness. AIR 2007 SC 2400
  • Child witness aged 3 years hiding himself till next morning without disclosing the offence he had witnessed is not unnatural. AIR 2009 SC 2292
  • Evaluation of Evidence, N. K. Acharya, Asia Law House, Hyderabad.
  • Law of Evidence, Vepa P. Sarathi, Eastern Book Company, Lucknow.

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