Supreme Court on Wednesday gave its nod for the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 prepared by the union government, to bolster safety and security apparatus for the witness of heinous crimes. According to reports, SC has directed all states and union territories to adopt the scheme, till government brings a legislation over it. In a 40 page judgment, the bench comprising of Justice AK Sikri and Justice S Abdul Nazeer noted that a large number of acquittals happen because of witnesses’ unwillingness in giving a statement or diverting from them, due to pressure or threats.
The need for a comprehensive Witness Protection Law emerged after a litigation demanded protection for witnesses in rape cases of Asaram Bapu.
SC noted that the law will be an important instrument in the elimination of secondary victimisation faced by witnesses. SC has said that the scheme will be a law under Article 141/142 of the Constitution.
Attorney General KK Venugopal asked the court to tell the states and union territories to implement the scheme, which according to amicus curie Gaurav Aggarwal is drafted with the consent of states.
National Legal Service Authority and Police Research and Development have divided the witness into three divisions, on basis of threat perception done by authorities. The authorities will involve District and Sessions Judge, who will be furnished with details of the case by ACP/DSP. The three types of witnesses are:
- There is a significant threat to life or well-being of witness or his/her family members, during or after the trail.
- There is a perceptible threat against witnesses’ properties or properties belonging to his/her family member.
- There is a moderate threat of harassment or intimidation of the witness or his/her relatives.
The scheme mentions measures that can be undertaken to protect witnesses. The measures include identity concealment, identity change and relocating the witnesses to a safe place if required. SC has also directed for the formation of Witness Protection Fund to aid these measures and also directed states to establish Witness Protection Complexes, by end of 2019.
Witness Protection Complexes are to be furnished with equipment and facilities to prevent the vulnerable witness and accused from coming face-to-face. This is to ensure witness don’t come under any pressure or intimidation.
The scheme also mentions the building of specially designed courtrooms having special arrangements like live links and one-way mirrors. It will also be equipped with technology to change the voice and appearance of the witness, so as to protect his/her identity.
The judgment can be accessed here [PDF].