- Apprentice Lawyer
The Madras High Court is set to introduce a child-friendly courtroom in compliance with the mandate envisioned under the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, 2012 to handle criminal proceedings involving children. The court will be the first of its kind in Tamil Nadu.
Similar measures have already been implemented in Goa, Delhi, Hyderabad and recently, in Bengaluru.
The POCSO Act recommends that Special Courts be established in every district to handle offences coming within the purview of the Act. In accordance with the provisions of the Act, courts are expected to be equipped with in camera trial facilities and one-way mirrors to protect the identity of the child.
The Act also recommends allowing the presence of a parent or a person held in trust or confidence by the child. The assistance of translators, interpreters, special educators, NGOs etc. may be relied upon as required.
Further, the Act lays down provisions to preserve the dignity of the child. The child is not to be subjected to aggressive examination or character assassination. The court may allow frequent breaks during trial if necessary. Moreover, the child should not be called on repeatedly to testify in the court.
Special Prosecutors with minimum seven years of experience are required to be appointed to handle such cases. The ultimate aim is to create a non-threatening environment conducive to enabling children to testify freely and under minimal pressure.
To this end, the existing child-friendly courtroom facilities have adopted several creative measures. The Goa facility features welcoming rooms without witness boxes. Child witnesses are engaged in activities such as colouring to encourage testimony.
The Hyderabad facility allows the child direct interaction with the judge in an area separate from the accused. The accused is allowed to view and hear proceedings through a two-way video conferencing system. This also allows the child to identify the accused without physical interface. The judge and other personnel are required to be in plain clothes. The court also features a waiting area that is child-friendly, complete with toys and colourful furniture.
However, a possible challenge that remains is regarding the appointment of adequately experienced advocates. The Hindu quotes A Narayanan, director, CHANGEindia as saying,
“There have been several instances where child victims have lost cases, because they were not represented by an advocate, who was well aware of all the provisions of the Act. There is no designated lawyer to handle such cases.”
Nevertheless, the introduction of such facilities in Tamil Nadu is a welcome one, as opined by prominent child rights activist, Dr. Andal Damodaran. Speaking to Bar & Bench, Dr. Damodaran said,
“We welcome it. We’ll have to see how it works, I’m sure something good will come out of it.”
The new facility is scheduled to be inaugurated in the Madras High Court by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee on July 18.