Witness protection will strengthen justice system
SC deserves credit for its proactive role in making the programme a reality
The witness protection programme is at last in place. Pending legislation by Parliament, the Supreme Court has asked states to implement a scheme framed by the Centre to protect witnesses in criminal trials from threat, intimidation and undue influence. Given the abysmal rate of convictions in the country, it is inexcusable that it took so long. Witnesses turning hostile is a major reason for most acquittals. In the current system, there is little incentive for witnesses to turn up in court and testify against criminals. Besides threats to their lives, they experience hostility and harassment while attending courts. It is gratifying that the court has played a proactive role in getting the Centre and the states to come up with a concrete proposal. The Centre deserves credit for coming forward to suggest that its draft witness protection scheme be introduced by judicial mandate instead of waiting for formal legislation.
A witness protection order will be passed by a competent authority. The scheme is to be funded by budgetary support from state governments and donations. Basic features such as in-camera trial, proximate physical protection and anonymising of testimony and references to witnesses in the records are not difficult to implement. The real test will be the advanced forms of identity protection: Giving witnesses a new identity, address and even “parentage”, with matching documents. It will be well worth the effort, as the scheme could help strengthen India’s tottering criminal justice system.