Shielding witnesses: on protection
Mains Paper 1: Polity
Prelims level: Protection Scheme
Mains level: Laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and
betterment of these vulnerable sections
- The witness protection programme is at last in place.
- Pending legislation by Parliament, the Supreme Court has asked
States to implement a scheme framed by the Centre to protect witnesses in
criminal trials from threat, intimidation and undue influence.
- Given the abysmal rate of convictions in the country, it is
inexcusable that it took so long.
- The need to protect witnesses has been emphasised by Law
Commission reports and court judgments for years.
Why it is so important?
- In the current system, there is little incentive for witnesses to
turn up in court and testify against criminals.
- Besides threats to their lives, they experience hostility and
harassment while attending courts.
- The tardy judicial process seldom takes into account the distance
they have travelled or the time they have lost in attending court, only to
be told they have to return another day.
- As Justice A.K. Sikri points out, the condition of witnesses in
the Indian legal system is “pathetic”, as it takes them for granted.
- It is gratifying that the court has played a proactive role in
getting the Centre and the States to come up with a concrete proposal.
- The Centre deserves credit for coming forward to suggest that its
draft witness protection scheme be introduced by judicial mandate instead of
waiting for formal legislation.
Essential features needs to be included in
- In its minutiae the scheme appears workable, but its efficacy will
be confirmed only with the passage of time.
- It broadly classifies witnesses in need of protection into three
types based on the threat assessment.
- A witness protection order will be passed by a competent
authority. The scheme is to be funded by budgetary support from State
governments and donations.
- This is at variance with the Law Commission’s recommendation in
2006 that the Centre and the States share the cost equally.
- Basic features such as in camera trial, proximate physical
protection and anonymising of testimony and references to witnesses in the
records are not difficult to implement.
- The real test will be the advanced forms of identity protection:
giving witnesses a new identity, address and even ‘parentage’, with matching
- All this needs to be done without undermining their professional
and property rights and educational qualifications.
- The introduction of the scheme marks a leap forward. Until now,
there have been ad hoc steps such as those outlined for concealing the
identity of witnesses in anti-terrorism and child-centric laws.
- A few dedicated courtrooms for vulnerable witnesses, mostly child
victims, are also functional.
- However, expanding such facilities and implementing a
comprehensive and credible witness protection programme will pose logistical
and financial challenges.
- It will be well worth the effort, as the scheme could help
strengthen India’s tottering criminal justice system.
Q.1) The recent Protection Scheme for witness noticed by which of the
B. Supreme Court
D. Parliamentary ethics committee
Q.1) A robust witness protection scheme will strengthen the criminal
justice system. Critically examine.