Need of Witness Protection Laws

A shocking incident happened in Unnao of Uttar Pradesh wherein at a road accident, a rape survivor’s two aunts died leaving the rape survivor and her lawyer in a critical condition. Consequent to the death of the two individuals, one of whom was also a witness in the case, charges pertaining to attempt to murder were added to those already present against the accused.

This was not a standalone incident. Due to recurrent attacks on witnesses, the Supreme Court had even asked the Centre and the States to frame laws for the protection of witnesses.

What did the Supreme Court Say?

On the plea of four key witnesses in a rape case of minors allegedly involving godman Asaram Bapu, the Supreme Court had questioned the failures of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in implementing the witness protection schemes and had asked them to give security to the witnesses.

Centre’s Witness Protection Scheme

Following the directions from the Supreme Court the centre had formulated a witness protection scheme in 2018 in consultation with the Bureau of Police Research and Development and the National Legal Services Authority. Its features include:

  • Identifying categories of threat perceptions,
  • Preparation of a ‘Threat Analysis Report’ by the head of the police,
  • Protective measures like ensuring that the witness and accused do not come face to face during the probe,
  • Protection of identity,
  • Change of identity,
  • Relocation of witness,
  • Witnesses to be apprised of the scheme,
  • Confidentiality and preservation of records, recovery of expenses etc.

The scheme was meant to remain in force only until the government brought out its own law on the issue. Though the centre was supposed to enact on the subject by it has not made much progress even after a year.

Why the scheme has turned ineffective?

  • The Witness Protection Scheme was formulated with an objective to ensure the safety of witnesses so that they are able to give a true account of the crime without any fear of violence or criminal recrimination, its implementation on the ground leaves much to be desired.
  • Even though the scheme provides for the deployment of police personnel for the protection of witnesses on the basis of threat perception, it is silent on the punishment to be given to those policemen who, while being charged with providing security, themselves threaten the witnesses.
  • The shadowy politician-police nexus is so strong that no policeman, at the mercy of political leaders for his career progression will dare to take any action against criminal and corrupt politicians. As long as this nexus continues, the delivery of criminal justice in India will remain a casualty.

The Witness Protection Scheme must be amended to include more elaborate and stricter laws so that criminals find no loopholes that can be exploited to their advantage. Sooner the government comes up with legislation codifying the protection to be given to witnesses, better it would be for India’s criminal justice system.

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