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Witness Protection Scheam 2018

Witness Protection Scheam 2018

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GS 3 || Security || Tackling Security Threats  || Criminal Justice System

Why in news ? :

  • The Supreme Court has approved the Centre’s draft witness protection scheme and has asked all the states to implement it till Parliament comes out with a legislation. The court has also made some changes in the scheme.
  • Background:
  • SC in State of Gujrat v. Anirudh Singh (1997) held that it is the salutary duty of every witness who has the knowledge of the commission of the crime, to assist the State in giving evidence.
  • First ever reference to Witness Protection in India came in 14th Law Commission Report in 1958. After that 154th, 178th and 198th Law Commission Report also recommended putting in place a witness protection scheme.
  • Malimath Committee Report also
  • mechanism and said that the courts should be ready to step in if the witness is harassed during cross-examination.

SC Judgement

  • SC held that the Right of witnesses to testify freely in courts is part of Article 21 (Right to Life).
  • The court said that the scheme will be the law under Article 141/142 of the Constitution, until the enactment of suitable Parliamentary and/or State Legislations on the subject.
  • The bench has also asked all states and Union Territories to set up vulnerable witness deposition complexes, as required by the Scheme, by the end of 2019. These rooms will be equipped with facilities to prevent the accused and witness coming face to face.

Highlights of the draft scheme:

  • The draft witness protection scheme has been finalised in consultation with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD).
  • The types of protection measures envisaged under the scheme are to be applied in proportion to the threat and they are not expected to go on for infinite time.
  • The scheme envisages that there should be safeguards that witnesses and accused do not come face to face during investigation or trial and adequate security measures should be there for the safety of the witnesses.
  • The scheme provides for identity protection and giving a new identity to the witness.
  • The scheme shall extend to the whole of the India except the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
  • 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. The scheme 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.
  • Witness deposition complexes will be set up in all district courts by the states and union territories within a year where the witnesses could fearlessly depose against the high and mighty without coming face-to-face with the accused.
  • It has three categories of witnesses based on the threat perception:
  • Category ‘A’: Where the threat extends to life of witness or his family members and their normal way of living is affected for a substantial period, during investigation/trial or even thereafter.
  • Category ‘B’: Where the threat extends to safety, reputation or property of the witness or his family members, only during the investigation process or trial.
  • Category ‘C’: Where the threat is moderate and extends to harassment or intimidation of the witness or his family member’s, reputation or property, during the investigation process.

Significance of the scheme:

  • The witnesses, being eyes and ears of justice, play an important role in bringing perpetrators of crime to justice. The scheme 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. This scheme attempts at ensuring that witnesses receive appropriate and adequate protection. It also strengthens the criminal justice system in the country and will consequently enhance national security scenario.

Need of the scheme :

  • Victims and witnesses of serious crimes are particularly at risk when the perpetrator is powerful, influential, or rich and the victims or witnesses belong to a socially or economically marginalised community. Girls and women who report sexual violence are often even more vulnerable and face extreme pressure or direct threats from the accused.
  • Also, witnesses need to have the confidence to come forward to assist law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities. They need to be assured that they will receive support and protection from intimidation and the harm that criminal groups may seek to inflict upon them in attempts to discourage or punish them from co-operating. Hence, legislative measures to emphasise prohibition against tampering of witnesses have become the imminent and inevitable need of the day.
  • In 2003, Justice V Malimath Committee on criminal justice system had recommended enacting a separate witness protection law and in 2006, the Law Commission of India, in its 198th report, provided for a draft witness protection law.
  • Besides, countries such as USA, United Kingdom, China, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong and Ireland have witness protection scheme