The Supreme Court Wednesday approved India’s first Witness Protection Scheme, noting that one of the main reasons for witnesses to turn hostile is that they are not provided appropriate protection by the State. A Bench of Justices A K Sikri and S Abdul Nazeer asked the Centre, states and Union Territories to “enforce” the scheme “in letter and spirit” The court said, “it shall be the ‘law’ under Article 141/142 of the Constitution, until the enactment of suitable Parliamentary and/or State Legislations on the subject”.
What is the Witness Protection Scheme?
The question of witness protection had come up in a PIL that sought protection for witnesses in cases against self-styled Godman Asaram Bapu. The scheme was drawn up by the central government with inputs from 8 states/Union Territories, legal services authorities of five states and open sources including civil society, three high courts as well as from police personnel. The scheme was finalised in consultation with National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
The important features of the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 include identifying categories of threat perceptions, preparation of a ‘Threat Analysis Report’ by the head of the police, protective measures like ensuring that the witness and accused do not come face to face during probe, protection of identity, change of identity, relocation of witness, witnesses to be apprised of the scheme, confidentiality and preservation of records, recovery of expenses etc.
The programme identifies “three categories of witnesses as per threat perception”:
* Category A: Those cases where threat extends to life of witness or family members during investigation, trial or even thereafter.
* Category B: Those cases where the threat extends to safety, reputation or property of the witness or family members during the investigation or trial.
* Category C: Cases where the threat is moderate and extends to harassment or intimidation of the witness or his family members, reputation or property during the investigation, trial or thereafter.
The bench 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. The expenses for the programme will be met from a Witness Protection Fund to be established by states and Union Territories.
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