The Supreme Court Wednesday approved the Centre’s draft witness protection scheme and asked all the states to implement it till Parliament comes out with a legislation.
A bench headed by Justice A K Sikri said that they have made some changes in the scheme. The issue of witness protection scheme had cropped up earlier when the top court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu.
During the hearing on November 19, Attorney General K K Venugopal had told the apex court that the draft scheme, which has now been finalised, would be made into a law “in due course”, but till then the court should direct the states to start implementing it.
The top court was also told by advocate Gaurav Agrawal, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, that the government has finalised the draft witness protection scheme after discussing it with all the states. The draft witness protection scheme, finalised in consultation with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD), has three categories of witnesses based on the threat perception.
In April this year, the Centre had informed the top court that it had framed a draft witness protection scheme and it was circulated among the states and Union Territories administration for comments. The court had asked the Centre to finalise the scheme after getting response from the states and Union Territories.
The court had said that witness protection scheme can be implemented for at least sensitive cases and the Ministry of Home Affairs could come out with a comprehensive plan. The draft of the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 states that it is the first attempt at the national-level to holistically provide for the protection of the witnesses, which will go a long way in eliminating secondary victimization.
The witnesses, being eyes and ears of justice, play an important role in bringing perpetrators of crime to justice, the draft noted. “This scheme attempts at ensuring that witnesses receive appropriate and adequate protection. This will go a long way in strengthening the criminal justice system in the country and will consequently enhance national security scenario,” the draft said.
The types of protection measures envisaged under the scheme are to be applied in proportion to the threat and they are not expected to go on for infinite time, but are expected to be for a specific duration on need basis which is to be reviewed regularly.
Further, the scheme envisages that there should be safeguards that witnesses and accused do not come face to face during investigation or trial and adequate security measures should be there for the safety of the witnesses and all possible steps should be taken for expeditious completion of the trial of cases.
The scheme provides for identity protection and giving a new identity to the witness. In the cases involving Asaram, petitioners who are witnesses, have sought a probe into the instances of alleged attacks and disappearances of witnesses in these cases.
The top court had in March last year questioned Haryana and Uttar Pradesh over the status of implementation of witness protection schemes till then and had directed them to provide security cover to witnesses in rape cases against Asaram, who is at present in jail.
While Uttar Pradesh has three such witnesses, Haryana has one. Section 195 A of the Indian Penal Code deals with witness protection. Countries such as USA, United Kingdom, China, Italy, Canada, Hong Kong and Ireland have witness protection scheme.
In 2003, Justice V Malimath Committee on criminal justice system had recommended enacting a separate witness protection law and in 2006, the Law Commission of India, in its 198th report, provided for a draft witness protection law.