Draft scheme suggests new IDs to protect witnesses

Draft scheme suggests new IDs to protect witnesses

India does not have a comprehensive national plan for witness protection despite the idea being mooted 60 years ago in a Law Commission report. Representative image

At a time when activists are fighting for the protection of witnesses, the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) and National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) have prepared the draft 'Witness Protection Scheme 2018'

Conferring a new identity to vulnerable witness, relocating them to safe houses and conducting trials in “specially designed courtrooms” to conceal their identity, these are among a slew of recommendations in the scheme

The country still does not have a comprehensive national plan despite the idea being mooted 60 years ago in a Law Commission report.

Some of the measures suggested to protect the witness' identity include ensuring that witnesses and accused do not come face-to-face during probe or trial as well as having an arrangement with the telephone company to change witnesses' number or assign them an unlisted number. 

The draft also suggested “specially designed courtrooms”, which have special arrangements like live links, one-way mirrors and screens apart from separate passage for the witness and accused. There should also be options to modify the image of witness' face as well as modify audio feed of the witness' voice to ensure that the witness is unidentifiable.

It said the witnesses protection could be as simple as providing a police escort to the courtroom, offering temporary residence in a safe house or using modern communication technology like video-conferencing for recording testimony.

In complex cases, where cooperation by a witness is critical to a successful prosecution of a powerful criminal group, extraordinary measures are required.

The draft provides for a witness approaching competent authority to conceal their identity during the course of an investigation. If such a decision on identity protection is taken, no details of the witness should be revealed to any other person.

Another option given is the change of identity. In the appropriate cases where there is a request from the witness and based on threat perception analysed by senior police officials, a decision can be taken to confer a "new identity" to the witness.

"Conferring new identities includes new name/profession/parentage and providing supporting documents acceptable by the government agencies.

The new identities should not deprive the witness of existing educational/professional/property rights," the draft said.

Relocation of the witness is another option given in the draft and one could be "relocated to a safer place" within the state keeping in view the safety, welfare and the well-being of the witness.

The expenses should be borne by the Witness Protection Fund, which will be operated by the Ministry of Home Affairs at the Centre and state governments.

Emphasising the need for such a scheme, the draft said organised crime has grown and is becoming stronger and more diverse.

'Need of the day'

"In the investigation and prosecution of crime, particularly the more serious and complex forms of organised crimes, it is essential that witnesses, the cornerstones for successful investigation and prosecution, have trust in criminal justice system," it said while arguing that legislative measures to prohibit tampering of witnesses have become "imminent and inevitable" need of the day".

According to the draft, witnesses need to be given the confidence to come forward to assist law enforcement and judicial authorities with full assurance of safety.

The scheme is aimed to identify a series of measures that may be adopted to safeguard witnesses and their family from intimidation and threats against their lives, reputation and property.