The Supreme Court has granted its nod to a central scheme that seeks to safeguard witnesses and their family members from any threats against their lives and reputation and asked the government and all states to implement it in letter and spirit.
The top court said Witness Protection Scheme, 2018, shall be the ‘law’ under Article 141 and 142 of the Constitution, till the enactment of suitable parliamentary or state legislations on the subject.
The important features of the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 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 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.
A bench of justices AK Sikri and SA Abdul Nazeer directed that in all the districts courts of the country, vulnerable witness deposition complexes shall be set up by the all the states and union territories by the end of 2019.
It said that the central government should also support this endeavour of the states/union territories by helping them financially and otherwise.
“This court has given its imprimatur to the scheme prepared by respondent No.1 (Centre) which is approved hereby. It comes into effect forthwith. The Union of India as well as States and Union Territories shall enforce the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 in letter and spirit,” the bench said.
It said that there is a paramount need to have witness protection regime, in a statutory form, which all the stakeholders and all the players in the criminal justice system concede but at the same time there is no such law.
The court noted that one of the main reasons for witnesses to turn hostile is that they are not accorded appropriate protection by the State. “It is a harsh reality, particularly, in those cases where the accused persons/ criminals are tried for heinous offences, or where the accused persons are influential persons or in a dominating position that they make attempts to terrorize or intimidate the witnesses because of which these witnesses either avoid coming to courts or refrain from deposing truthfully,” the court said.