[Answered] “The Witness Protection Scheme need more elaborate and stricter laws.” Comment.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Features of witness Protection Scheme and issues.
Conclusion. Way forward.

Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 provides for protection of witnesses based on the threat assessment and protection measures which include protection of identity of witnesses, their relocation, etc. The witness protection scheme is the first attempt in India to protect witnesses. But it suffers from serious limitations.

What is the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018?

  1. Scheme envision identification of categories of threat perceptions and preparation of a Threat Analysis Report by the head of the police.
  2. Protective measures include:
    • Ensuring that the witness and accused do not come face to face during probe.
    • Protection of identity or change of identity.
    • Relocation of witness.
    • Witnesses to be apprised of the scheme.
    • Confidentiality and preservation of records.
    • Recovery of expenses, etc.
  3. Other features are in-camera trial, proximate physical protection and anonymising of testimony and references to witnesses in the records.
  4. The programme identifies 3 categories of witnesses as per threat perception as follows:
    • Category A: Cases where threat extends to life of witness or family members during investigation, trial or thereafter.
    • Category B: Cases where threat extends to safety, reputation or property of the witness or family members during the investigation or trial.
    • Category C – Cases where threat is moderate and extends to harassment or intimidation of the witness or family members, reputation or property during the investigation, trial or thereafter.
  5. The application for protection will have to be filed before the competent authority. The Authority will be required to dispose an application within five days from the date of receipt of Threat Analysis Report.
  6. The scheme will be the law under Article 141/142 of the Constitution, until the enactment of suitable Parliamentary and/or State Legislations on the subject.

Issues in witness Protection Scheme:

  1. The biggest problem is the time frame of protection. The scheme has limited the scope of protection for 3 months at a time. Witness protection should be provided until the threat has ceased to exist.
  2. The second drawback  is related to the categorisation of witnesses according to threat perception. No scheme can succeed if a corrupt administration or police department is invested with the authority to analyse the threat perception and then categorise witnesses on the basis of its assessment.
  3. Even though the scheme is committed to protecting the identity of witnesses by maintaining the confidentiality of personal information, it does not penalise any violation of the said provision, reducing the potency of the provision. An effective deterrent must be put in place to prevent the disclosure of such sensitive information.
  4. The functioning criminal justice system is the responsibility of the State and some states may not have adequate resources to implement this scheme effectively.
  5. The lower courts, where all the witnesses have to appear, do not have the infrastructure to satisfy the mandate of the present WPS.
  6. Overworked and understaffed police are unlikely to make any meaningful threat analysis for a witness.
  7. Also, in high profile cases involving politicians or influential people the police officer can be put under pressure to provide those people the information regarding the witness.
  8. The arrangements to change identity and relocate witnesses may not fit Indian conditions.
  9. Scheme not addressed the harassment of the witnesses from the frequent adjournment of cases, monetary loss and other kinds of deprivation due to their repeated appearances in the court
  10. It doesn’t address the social reality of witnesses. Most crimes in India take place amongst people known or related to each other and, consequently, the witnesses also share some relationship with both the victim and the accused. Thus, it casts tremendous pressure on the witness, generally of a social or caste-related nature.

Owing to its major loopholes, the witness protection scheme is unlikely to instil confidence in witnesses. Neither can it resolve the problem of witnesses turning hostile. The political patronage and corrupt practices have a role to play in witnesses turning hostile. Witness protection requires foolproof mechanisms.

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