India gets first witness protection scheme

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Mechanisms, laws, institutions & Bodies constituted for the protection & betterment of these vulnerable sections

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the scheme

Mains level: Importance of protection for Witness in major trials


News

Background

  • The issue came up when the Supreme Court was hearing a PIL plea seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases, involving a self-proclaimed godman as key accused in Madhya Pradesh.

Supreme Court asks for implementation

  1. The Supreme Court has brought in place a witness protection regime in the country noting that one of the main reasons for witnesses turning hostile is that they are not given security by the State.
  2. A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer said Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 will come into effect immediately across all States.
  3. The court said the scheme, which aimed to enable a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully, would be the law of the land till Parliament enacted suitable legislation.

Witness Protection Scheme, 2018

  1. Under it, witness protection may be as simple as providing a police escort to the witness up to the courtroom.
  2. In more complex cases involving organised criminal group, extraordinary measures will be taken such as offering temporary residence in a safe house, giving a new identity, and relocation at an undisclosed place.
  3. The objective of this Scheme is to ensure that the investigation, prosecution and trial of criminal offences is not prejudiced because witnesses are intimidated or frightened to give evidence without protection from violent or other criminal recrimination.
  4. The scheme shall extend to the whole of the India except the State of Jammu & Kashmir.
  5. During the  course  of  investigation  or  trial  of  any  serious  offence,  an application  for  seeking  identity  protection  can  be  filed  in  the  prescribed  form before the Competent Authority.
  6. The scheme has three categories of witnesses based on the threat perception, and the states should start enforcing it:

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.

Other Provisions

  1. Witness Protection Fund means the fund created for bearing the expenses incurred during the implementation of Witness Protection Order passed by the Competent Authority under this scheme;
  2. Witness Protection Order means an order passed by the Competent  Authority detailing the steps to be taken for ensuring the safety of witness from threats to his or his family member’s life, reputation or property.  *It also includes interim order, if any passed, during the pendency of Witness Protection Application;
  3. Witness Protection Cell means a dedicated Cell of State/UT Police or Central Police Agencies assigned the duty to implement the witness protection order. It shall be responsible for the security as per witness protection order.

Proposed Rights to be entitled to the Witness

  • Right to give evidence anonymously
  • Right to protection from intimidation and harm
  • Right to be treated with dignity and compassion and respect of privacy
  • Right to information of the status of the investigation and prosecution of the crime
  • Right to secure waiting place while at Court proceedings
  • Right to transportation and lodging arrangements

With inputs from official website of  NALSA

Judiciary Institutional Issues
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