The Supreme Court directive on videoconferencing in trafficking cases will increase victims’ access to justice

The Supreme Court directive on deposition through videoconferencing in trafficking cases is progressive and will increase victims’ access to justice

Anti trafficking activists and survivor leaders laud the Supreme Court directive to State governments to ensure in-camera videoconferencing facilities in trials for trafficked victims who often have to travel long distances to depose before courts. This is a very welcome step taken by the judiciary that will not only further survivors’ access to justice but also increase conviction of traffickers, they said.

A Supreme Court Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao on Tuesday directed States of West Bengal, Assam and Rajasthan to initiate a ‘pilot project’ to ensure video conferencing facilities are being made available for deposition of children and witnesses in trafficking cases.

“This is a very welcome step towards ensuring access to the criminal justice system for survivors of trafficking who are usually from the under privileged background. However, we have to see how soon the state government implements the direction of the Apex Court,” said advocate Kaushik Gupta, a senior lawyer and activist, who is also a member of anti-trafficking coalition Tafteesh.

“The pandemic has been harsh - but it is also pushing us towards reviewing the way we've done things, and it's great to see these innovative steps coming up from the progressive members of the country who uphold law and justice,” said Pompi Banerjee, a psychologist and activist associated with Sanjog, also a member of Tafteesh.

“Tafteesh has been engaging with the criminal justice system to utilise video conferencing facilities to make justice more accessible to survivors, and to ensure survivors can meaningfully engage with the system for compensations as well as to support the prosecution. It's good to see steps being taken in that direction,” she added.

Supia Khatoon, a leader from Utthan collective and a member of Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT), said she was very happy to hear the news and hoped that through videoconferencing more survivors can participate in the hearings and ensure that traffickers get punished. “It has been very difficult and expensive for survivors to travel for depositions and this is one of the main reasons why survivors have not been able to strengthen their cases until now. Now, not just their cases be stronger, this will also help reduce pendency of cases and result in quicker hearings. I also hope that videoconferencing should also become the norm for victim compensation cases too,” she said.

Recalling her own difficulties of going to Pune thrice to give her depositions, Asma Molla, another ILFAT leader from West Bengal, said: “The travels were not only expensive, but also very harassing in nature. That’s why I have been demanding for videoconferencing for depositions. Now, it feels like the Supreme Court has upheld my demand.”

Videoconferencing facilities for survivors to give their statements and deposition in the criminal prosecution will be helpful in three major ways:

1. Enables survivors who are residing with their communities to participate in prosecution with less difficulties. They will no longer have to travel such great distances, and incur social stigma to be able to punish the traffickers.

2. This will shift the narrative around need for keeping survivors in shelter homes for long years. Often, organisations who run shelter homes justify keeping survivors in the closed-door institutions in the name of rehabilitation by citing that once the survivors go home, it becomes impossible to get their witness in the case. Now, with the technology in place, this reasoning can no longer stand. Survivors will be able to go home, or find rehabilitation in a community of their choice, and still be able to choose to support prosecution.

3. This step will dismantle the myth of the ‘hostile survivor’. If this directive is implemented along with the witness and victim protection scheme, then survivors will no longer have to fear backlash from traffickers for giving witness against them. Their testimonies will help increase conviction of the traffickers through offering a justice system that's safe, accessible and sensitive to the interests of the survivors.

However, for effective implementation, it's important that survivor leaders' federations like ILFAT and civil society organisations monitor how the directive is being implemented and report back to the system on it to bridge the gaps. In order for these innovations to become a part of the system, it would be important for this technology to find place in the new Anti-Trafficking Bill being drafted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

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Tafteesh is a platform for anti-trafficking stakeholders including lawyers, researchers, psychologists, social workers and survivors of trafficking. For more information, visit: www.tafteesh.org  

ILFAT is a national level federation of survivors of various forms of human trafficking. For more information, visit: www.ilfat.org 

Utthan Survivor Leaders’ Council is a collective of survivors of human trafficking which is also a member group of ILFAT.

For any query, please contact Saroj Kumar Pattnaik @ sarojskp1@gmail | 9910452820