SC Approves Witness Protection Scheme: What Does That Mean?

The Supreme Court on Thursday, 6 December, directed all State and Union territories to enforce the Witness Protection Scheme 2018, that was prepared by the Union of India and had been approved by the Court earlier in the day.

The order that was passed by a bench comprising Justice AK Sikri and Justice S Abdul Nazeer stated that the Witness Protection Scheme would be treated as a ‘law’ under Article 141/142 of the Constitution, until the creation and adoption of suitable parliamentary and/or state legislations on the subject, LiveLaw reported.

It also directed for vulnerable witness deposition complexes to be set up by the states and union territories within a period of one year, in this case, the end of 2019. 

This scheme, approved by the apex court, was drawn up by the Union of India, in response to a PIL filed in court, seeking the protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu, the report added.

What is the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018?

The primary features of the scheme involve: Identifying the category the witness falls under, the preparation of a “Threat Analysis Report” by the head of the police, and the different kinds of protection measures that can be awarded to these witnesses, the report added.

The Witness Protection Scheme, according to LiveLaw, categorises the kinds of witnesses into three:

  • “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 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 or intimidation of the witness or his family member’s, reputation or property, during the investigation/trial or thereafter.”

How Does the Scheme Work?

Here’s how the scheme will work according to LiveLaw:

Step 1: The witness can file an application seeking the protection order before the “competent authority” of the district where the crime or offence has been committed. This competent authority will normally be chaired by the District and Sessions Judge, with the head of the district police as a member and the head of the prosecution in the district as its member secretary.

Step 2: When the parties making up the competent authority receive the application from the witness, they have to make a call for a “Threat Analysis Report” from the ACP/DSP in charge of the concerned Police Sub-Division.

Step 3: Finally, based on the “Threat Analysis Report”, the competent authority will hold a hearing in this regard, following which the required protection measures can be ordered for the witness.

Also Read: SC Approves Centre’s Witness Protection Scheme

Identity protection, change of identity and relocation of witnesses, will also be placed under the jurisdiction of the authority in charge, as per the case, the report added.

Scheme to be Implemented Across All States, UTs

Regarding its judgement regarding the scheme, the Supreme Court bench, in a statement said:

"“Since it is beneficial and benevolent scheme which is aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system in this country, which shall in turn ensure not only access to justice but also advance the cause the justice itself, all the States and Union Territories also accepted that suitable directions can be passed by the court to enforce the said Scheme as a mandate of the court till the enactment of a statute by the Legislatures.”" - The Supreme Court bench, as reported by LiveLaw

Also Read: Sohrabuddin Encounter Case: 2 More Witnesses Turn Hostile

Stating the need to need to have a witness protection regime “in a statutory form”, the bench also spoke about the need to create Vulnerable Witness Deposition Complexes, the report added. The reason, they said, was because in many criminal cases, witnesses had turned hostile and giving false testimonies, mainly due to a lack of protection for them and their families.

(With inputs from LiveLaw)

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