Odisha Implements Witness Protection Scheme, 2018

On 9th July, 2019, Odisha became the first Indian state to implement the Centre’s Witness Protection Scheme, 2018. Endorsing the central scheme on December 5 last year, the Supreme Court had directed all States and UTs to implement it in letter and spirit.

Reasons for Witness Turning Hostile:

  • Threats to life of witnesses as well as relatives
  • Inducement by various means
  • Influence of rich, powerful and corrupt people
  • Inefficient judiciary system leading to prolonged hearings

The Witness Protection Scheme, 2018

Aim

  • To ensure that the investigation, prosecution, and trial of criminal offenses is not hindered because witnesses are subdued or frightened to give evidence without protection from violent or other criminal recrimination.

Salient Features

  • Identifying categories of threat perceptions, preparation of a 'Threat Analysis Report' by the head of the police
  • Protective measures like ensuring that the witness and accused do not come face to face during probe
  • Protection of identity
  • Relocation of witness
  • Confidentiality and preservation of records, recovery of expenses etc
  • It comprises 3 categories of witnesses as per the threat perception:
    • Category A: cases where the threat extends to the life of witness or his family members during an investigation, trial or thereafter.
    • Category B: cases where the threat perception extends to safety, reputation or property of the witness or his family members during the investigation or trial.
    • Category C: cases where the threat is moderate and extends to harassment or intimidation of the witness or his family member’s reputation or property.

Need for Such Scheme:

  • Life Threat to Witnesses: In Indian scenario large percentage of acquittals in criminal cases is due to witnesses turning hostile and giving false testimonies, mostly due to lack of protection for them and their families, especially in case of women and children. It is the responsibility of the State to impart adequate protection to the witness. This would encourage more witness to come forward.
  • To Provide Rule of Law: It is a rule of law that no rights of the witness should be prejudiced by way of threats, intimidation or corruption therefore, to allow him to testify for or against the case which he had been a witness to with full liberty.

Challenges towards Witness Protection:

  • Maintaining Anonymity of Witness: The most important challenge is with respect to anonymity of witnesses and the balancing of interests of the prosecution to compensate the witness and the rights of the true accused.
  • High Implementation Cost: When talking about offering bodyguards, security, relocation to another area etc., the costs that are involved are bound to be huge.
  • Deep-Rooted Corruption: The more pertinent problem is that of corruption in the administration and judiciary at every level, making witnesses more vulnerable.
  • Inefficient Judiciary System: A witness in Indian situation, who is settled with a job and family, may not want to undergo such major changes in his life for the sake of being a witness in a Court of law considering the snail paced working of Indian judicial system.

Suggestions:

  • Beneficial witness protection legislation, should ideally count in all the three concerned agencies – police, government and judiciary. The government should exhibit a political will to administer necessary acts, the judiciary can take up the legal aspects and the execution may be delegated to the police.
  • The police force should be given more freedom to take basic measures to protect witnesses like surveillance, escorting the witness to work and court, assisting with emergency relocation etc.
  • Rebuilding trust of the people in the formal system of law is the best form of witness protection. The witnesses should be assured that those who want to testify have, on their side, the police and an impartial system.

Way Forward

  • Witnesses are regarded as one of the most crucial element in the criminal justice system. It is because of them that the trial finds some solidity so as to come to a fair conclusion.
  • A good witness protection scheme is important for witnesses whose evidence is vital for the successful prosecution of criminal cases and wherein the life of witness and his family members is also exposed to danger.
  • An effective witness protection scheme will bring in efficiency in the criminal justice system, given the awful rate of convictions in the country.

Source : Services Chronicle Online, 9th July, 2019