India gets first witness protection scheme

Headline : India gets first witness protection scheme

Details :

The News

  • The Supreme Court today approved the Centre’s draft witness protection scheme

 

Background

  • 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.
Section : Polity & Governance

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