Principles laid down by Madras High Court to examine witnesses who are unable to speak

The Madras High Court laid down principles to examine witnesses who are unable to speak in the matter of Ravichandran v. State [Crl.A.No.65 of 2020] and [Crl.M.P.No.1327 of 2020].The case was presided over by Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sunder Mohan. 


In the present instance, the appellant was held responsible for inflicting injuries on the victim’s head, various body parts, including her private areas (who was then 5 years old and had speech and hearing impairments), while also pricking her with needles and attacking her with a cat in order to treat her through meditation techniques.

He moved to the High Court to appeal the judgment of conviction under Sections 307 and 502(ii) of the IPC, arguing that despite the victim’s speech and hearing impairment, her deposition before the court failed to disclose how and in what manner the trial court had recorded her testimony. As a result, the trial court had not complied with the procedure outlined in Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act

According to Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act, if a witness is unable to speak, he or she may offer testimony in any way that may be understood, such as by writing or signs given in public court, and such testimony shall be regarded to be oral testimony.

The proviso to Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act additionally provides that the Court shall use the help of an interpreter or a special educator in recording the testimony, and such statement shall be videotaped, if the witness is unable to communicate verbally.


The hon’ble court held that the evidence is against the appellant and the trial court has rightly held him guilty and convicted of the offenses charged against him. Further accepting that the proper procedure was not followed in recording the statement of the witness the court lead down principles to examine witnesses who are unable to speak as follows:

  1. The endeavour of the Court must be to record the evidence, by giving questions in writing and seeking answers in writing, if the witness is able to read and write. Only if the witness is unable to read and write, the courts should record the evidence by signs.
  2. If the evidence is recorded by signs, the view of the Courts, (prior to amendment) was that the signs must be recorded as such and they should not be any interpretation of the signs. The Hon’ble Apex court, in Darshan Singh case cited supra held that the interpreter is necessary while recording the evidence of witnesses who give evidence by signs. The legislature thought it fit to make it mandatory for the Courts to take the assistance of an interpreter and videography such evidence, in line with the pronouncements of the Hon’ble Apex court.
  3. The meaning of the word ”unable to communicate verbally” in the proviso to Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act means unable to communicate in writing and can communicate only through signs. It is for those categories of persons who are unable to speak and can’t communicate in writing that the proviso would apply. As per the proviso, the Courts shall take the assistance of the interpreter and such recording of such statement shall be video graphed.

The court stated that since proper procedures have not been followed by the trial court, it is unsafe to rely on the deposition of the trial court. Further mentioning that the appellant is acquitted and is at liberty and the judgment of the trial court is set aside.  

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