Headline : India gets first witness protection scheme
- The Supreme Court today approved the Centre’s draft witness protection scheme
- In 2003, Justice V Malimath Committee on criminal justice system had recommended enacting a separate witness protection law.
- In 2006, the Law Commission of India, in its 198th report, provided for a draft witness protection law.
- In the recent time, the issue of witness protection scheme had cropped up earlier when the top court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving Asaram Bapu.
- In April this year, the Centre had informed the top court that it had framed a draft witness protection scheme and it was circulated among the states and Union Territories administration for comments.
- The court had asked the Centre to finalise the scheme after getting response from the states and Union Territories.
- On November 19, Attorney General told the top court that the scheme has been finalized and would be made into a law “in due course”, but till then the court should direct the states to start implementing it.
- The Court has now approved the scheme ad ordered the states to implement it till a legislation comes.
Highlights of the witness protection scheme
- The Court has made some changes in the scheme and approved it.
- It asked all the states to implement it till Parliament comes out with legislation.
- The draft of the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 states that it is the first attempt at the national-level to holistically provide for the protection of the witnesses.
- The draft witness protection scheme has beenfinalised in consultation with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD):
- It has three categories of witnesses based on the threat perception.
- The types of protection measures envisaged under the scheme are to be applied in proportion to the threat.
- They are not expected to go on for infinite time, but are expected to be for a specific duration on need basis which is to be reviewed regularly.
- There should be safeguards that witnesses and accused do not come face to face during investigation or trial.
- Adequate security measures should be there for the safety of the witnesses and all possible steps should be taken for expeditious completion of the trial of cases.
- The scheme provides for identity protection and giving a new identity to the witness.
- As per the scheme, police escort will be provided to witnesses who are threatened and, if needed, they would be relocated to a safe house.
- SC directed that witness deposition complexes be set up in all district courts by the states and union territories within a year.
- Also says mails and phone calls of the witnesses would be monitored to trace the person threatening them.
- It said a separate witness protection fund will be created in each state to meet the expenses incurred under the scheme.
Need for witness protection
- Victimization of witnesses is a harsh reality, particularly, in those cases where the accused persons/criminals are tried for heinous offences.
- Moreover, where the accused persons are influential persons or in a dominating position that they make attempts to terrorise or intimidate the witnesses because of which these witnesses either avoid coming to courts or refrain from deposing truthfully.
- This unfortunate situation prevails because of the reason that the state has not undertaken any protective measure to ensure the safety of these witnesses.
- All this has created problems of low convictions in India.
- This has serious repercussions for the criminal justice system itself.
- On the one hand, it is to be ensured that no innocent person is convicted and thereby deprived of his liberty; it is of equal importance to ensure, on the other hand, that victims of crime get justice by punishing the offender.
- In this whole process, protection of witnesses assumes significance to enable them to depose fearlessly and truthfully.
Status of Witness protection in India and other countries
- Section 195 A of the Indian Penal Code deals with witness protection.
- Countries such as USA, United Kingdom, China, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong and Ireland have witness protection scheme.
Significance of the approved scheme
- The witnesses, being eyes and ears of justice, play an important role in bringing perpetrators of crime to justice.
- This scheme attempts at ensuring that witnesses receive appropriate and adequate protection.
- This will go a long way in strengthening the criminal justice system in the country and will consequently enhance national security scenario
- This is the first attempt at the national-level to holistically provide for the protection of the witnesses, which will go a long way in eliminating secondary victimization.
- The scheme will enable a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully.