Witness Protection Scheme
- Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
- Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability.
Witness Protection Scheme
What to study?
- For Prelims: Highlights of the draft.
- For Mains: Need for the scheme, need for protection of witness, challenges and issues associated.
Context: 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.
- 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.
- During the hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal had told the top court that the draft scheme, which has now been finalised, would be made into a law “in due course”, but till then the court should direct the states to start implementing it.
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.
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.
Sources: the hindu.
Mains Question: The draft Witness Protection Scheme, 2018, 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 victimisation. Discuss.