Wit­ness pro­tec­tion will strengthen jus­tice sys­tem

SC de­serves credit for its proac­tive role in mak­ing the pro­gramme a re­al­ity

Business Standard - - OPINION -

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.

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