In State of Gujrat v. Anirudh Singh it was held that it is the salutary duty of every witness who has the knowledge of the commission of the crime, to assist the State in giving evidence. However, being a witness may turn out to be a dangerous as the accused could try to subdue him/her and prevent any testimony that may lead to conviction. Therefore, it is imperative that people willing to testify before the court of law would require a safe environment.
There have been many recommendations made over the years by different statutory bodies including the Law Commission of India.
In its 14th, 154th, 178th and 198th report, the Law Commission mentioned the need of a scheme protecting witnesses willing to testify in criminal trials. The Malimnath Committee Report also suggested a strong mechanism that would solely focus on the safety and security of a witness before the court of law.
In 2018, the Supreme Court of India gave its approval to India’s very first Witness Protection Programme which was drafted with the contribution of the Union Government as well as 18 States and Union Territories. The policy aims to ensure that witnesses who are instrumental to criminal trials in the country are not subjected to humiliation, intimidation or harassment of any kind due to the nature of their position.
● Categories of Witnesses:
Under the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 there are three categories of witnesses in proportion to the nature of the threat:
1) Category A- These are grave instances wherein there is a threat to the life of a witness or his/her family members during the investigation, trial or even after the proceedings come to an end.
2) Category B- These cases relate to instances during which there is a threat to the safety, reputation or property of the witnesses or their family members during the investigation or trial.
3) Category C- In these cases, there is a moderate threat to the witnesses or their family members which may turn into harassment or intimidation during the investigation, trial or after the proceedings have ended.
● What does the scheme entail?
Firstly, the scheme sets up a Witness Protection Fund operated under the State/Union Territory’s Ministry of Home. This fund is established by an annual budgetary allocation and is used to meet the expenses of the implementation of the programme. It is also free to accept any donations from nation/international philanthropic bodies including corporations carrying out their social responsibilities.
Secondly, it also prepared a ‘Threat Analysis Report’ by the Commissioner or the Senior Superintendent whenever a witness applies for protection. This report helps in ensuring that the witness and the accused do not come face to face during the trial proceedings, protection of identity, change of identity, relocation of witnesses, witnesses to be apprised of the scheme, confidentiality, and preservation of records, recovery of expenses etc.
Lastly, the scheme provides for the formation of a Witness Protection Cell in each State/ Union Territory which is responsible for carrying out these tasks upon direction by the government. The cell initiates implementation once the Witness Protection Order is passed by a competent authority.