July,15,2015: Despite cases of intimidation of key witnesses being a routine, there is still no law in India on witness protection or to deal with threat to their life and otherwise from criminals and those in positions of power.
Many witnesses died under mysterious circumstances in the Vyapam scam. In Asaram case, too several witnesses came under attack. Not long ago in the Jessica Lal murder case, several witnesses turned hostile, leading the Court to start perjury proceedings against them. After the case, the Delhi High Court had asked for framing of a comprehensive Witness Protection Scheme. But, that has not yet led to any legislative initiative.
The Law Commission had made several attempts to draft a witness protection law and recommended to the Centre stressing its need, but to no avail. The last law panel report was sent to the Government in 2006.
After the Delhi High Court's direction, the State Legal Services Authority drafted a 'Delhi Witness Protection Scheme' but that too has been pending since 2013.
Surinder S Rathi, Additional District and Sessions Judge posted with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), told TOI that Delhi was the first to draft such a law in the country. He said he has met Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and briefed him about the importance of such a law.
"The CM has promised to notify it immediately once it is passed by the assembly," Rathi said. The Delhi draft law—which can be a model for a federal law or other state governments—has been based on the best practices followed in the US and European countries.
Dealing with vulnerability of witnesses, the Delhi draft law proposes adequate security to witnesses facing intimidation and threat to their life. It has provision for change of identity of the witness to relocation, providing housing, police protection, regular patrolling around the witnesses' house, expeditious recording of deposition during trial and even providing financial aid and a sustenance allowance to vulnerable witnesses.
There are well-defined witness protection laws in all developed countries which include changing identity of the witness to providing them security, shelter and livelihood.
In the US, protection is provided not only to a witness but even to his or her close relatives and even a potential witness. Laws in the US and Canada assist in providing housing, medical care, job training, employment and subsistence funding.
In the UK, laws consider threat to a witness as contempt of court. In 1994, UK enacted the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which provides for punishment for intimidation of witnesses. Section 51 of the Act provides for protection of the witness and also a potential witness who is helping or could help with the investigation of a crime.
Times of India
Read the Full Text of 'Delhi Witness Protection Scheme,2013' here-
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