Context: Supreme Court had directed states to implement the Draft Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 framed by the Centre in consultation with the Bureau of Police Research and Development and National Legal Services Authority (NALSA). The centre was scheduled to bring a law for the same but not much progress has been made in this respect.
NEED FOR WITNESS PROTECTION SCHEME
- The witness protection scheme is necessary as it will protect such people who have witnessed a crime and can confirm the same in a Court of law.
- However, in most cases, due to harassment or undue force, at times the witnesses refuse to give evidence in the Court. This helps the accused in getting acquitted from the offence.
- As a protector of its citizens, it is the duty of the state to ensure that during a trial, the witness presents the truth without fear of being haunted.
Aims & Objectives of Draft Witness Protection Scheme, 2018
- The ability of a witness to give testimony in a judicial setting or to cooperate with law enforcement and investigations without fear of intimidation or reprisal is essential in maintaining the rule of law.
- 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.
- It aims to promote law enforcement by facilitating the protection of persons who are involved directly or indirectly in providing assistance to criminal law enforcement agencies and the overall administration of Justice.
- Witnesses need to be given the confidence to come forward to assist law enforcement and Judicial Authorities with full assurance of safety.
- It is aimed to identify a series of measures that may be adopted to safeguard witnesses and their family members from intimidation and threats against their lives, reputation and property.
Ensuring Trust for witnesses in the criminal justice system
- In recent years organized crime has grown and is becoming stronger and more diverse. In the investigation and prosecution of crime, particularly the more heinous and complex forms of organized crime, (like trafficking, mafia nexus, murders, rape) it is essential that witnesses, the cornerstones for successful investigation and prosecution, have trust in the criminal justice system.
- Witnesses need to have the confidence to come forward to assist law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities.
- Hence, legislative measures to emphasize prohibition against tampering of witnesses have become the imminent and inevitable need of the day.
- As such witnesses should be entitled to the following rights:
- Right to give evidence anonymously
- Right to protection from intimidation and harm
- Right to be treated with dignity and compassion and respect of the privacy
- Right to information about 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.
Scope of Witness protection
- Witness Protection may be as simple as providing a police escort to theCourtroom, offering temporary residence in a safe house or using modern communication technology (such as video conferencing) for the recording of testimony.
- In other more complex cases, where cooperation by a witness is critical to the successful prosecution of a powerful criminal group, extraordinary measures are required to ensure the witness’s safety viz. anonymity, relocation of the witness under a new identity in a new, undisclosed place of residence.
- Witness protection, especially in its practical operation, must, therefore, be viewed on a case by case basis in meaningful assistance to the witnesses.