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The Supreme Court on Monday said a deaf-mute need not be prevented from giving evidence in court merely on account of his physical disability as he can do so either by writing or through gestures.

The court said this while upholding the Rajasthan High Court’s verdict of May 29, 2005 by which it had quashed the conviction of murder accused Darshan Singh.

The apex court bench of Justice BS Chauhan and Justice Dipak Misra said: “…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.”

“Language is much more than words. Like all other languages, communication by way of signs has some inherent limitations, since it may be difficult to comprehend what the user is attempting to convey,” said the court.

Justice Chauhan said: “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 witness may be administered oath by appropriate means and that may also be with the assistance of an interpreter, said Justice Chauhan.

In case a person can read and write it was most desirable to adopt a method that was more satisfactory than any sign language. “The law required that there must a record of signs and not the interpretation of signs,” the court said.

Finding no infirmity in a dumb witness tendering evidence, the court said that the object of enacting the provisions of Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act reveals that deaf and dumb people 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,” said the court.

To buttress its conclusion, the court referred to the era of silent movies where the theme of the film was expressed through gestures and the expression and was widely understood by the audiences.

Darshan Singh was sentenced to life term in 2003 for killing Kuku Singh on the evidence of the victim’s deaf-mute widow Geeta. The high court set aside the trial court’s conviction, giving the benefit of the doubt to Darshan Singh.

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