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SC approves Witness Protection Scheme 2018; directs Centre, States to enforce the scheme by 2019

Dec 6, 2018 15:13 IST
SC approves Witness Protection Scheme 2018; directs Centre, States to enforce the scheme by 2019
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The Supreme Court on December 5, 2018 approved the Witness Protection Scheme 2018 and directed the Central and State Governments to enforce the same in letter and spirit.

The bench comprising Justice AK Sikri and Justice S Abdul Nazeer held that the scheme will become ‘law’ under Article 141/142 of the Constitution till the enactment of parliamentary and state legislations on the subject.

Scheme framed in a response to PIL seeking protection for witnesses

The Central Government had placed this scheme on record in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving offender self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu.

It was alleged that as many as 10 witnesses had already been attacked and three witnesses killed. The PIL was filed by four petitioners including a witness, father of a murdered witness, father of the child rape victim and a journalist.

Vulnerable Witness Deposition Complexes

The Bench also directed the states and union territories to set up the vulnerable witness deposition complexes within a period of one year by the end of 2019.

The bench observed that there is a paramount need to have witness protection regime in a statutory form. It also emphasised on the need to create Vulnerable Witness Deposition Complexes.

One of the main reasons behind establishing these Vulnerable Witness Deposition Complexes was that a large percentage of acquittal in criminal cases is due to witnesses turning hostile and giving false testimonies, mostly due to lack of protection for them and their families.

All you need to know about Witness Protection Scheme 2018

The Witness Protection Scheme 2018 was formulated by the Home Ministry on the inputs received from 18 States and Union Territories, five state legal services authorities 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).

Objective

The scheme aims to ensure that the investigation, prosecution and trial of criminal offences does not turn out to be biased as witnesses are intimidated or frightened to give evidence without protection from violent or other criminal recrimination.

Essential features of Witness Protection Scheme 2018

  • Identifying categories of threat perceptions
  • Preparation of a “Threat Analysis Report” by the head of the police
  • Types of protection measures like ensuring that the witness and accused do not come face to face during investigation etc. protection of identity, change of identity, relocation of witness
  • Confidentiality and preservation of records, recovery of expenses, etc.

Scheme categorises witnesses into three types:

  • Where the threat extends to life of witness or his family members during investigation, trial or thereafter.
  • Where the threat extends to safety, reputation or property of the witness or his family members, during the investigation, trial or thereafter.
  • Where the threat is moderate and extends to harassment of the witness or his family member’s, reputation or property during the investigation, trial or thereafter.

How witnesses can seek protection?

  • The witnesses, categorised under the scheme, can file application for seeking protection order before the competent authority of the concerned district where the offence is committed.
  • This competent authority will be chaired by District and Sessions Judge, with head of the police in the district as member and head of the prosecution in the district as its member secretary.
  • The authority, when it receives an application, has to call for a Threat Analysis Report from the ACP/DSP in charge of the concerned Police Sub-Division.
  • The authority is also empowered to order protection measures based on the Threat Analysis Report such as identity protection, change of identity and relocation of witnesses.
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