Witnesses disappearing or turning hostile is a major stumbling block in successful criminal justice administration. The need for a specific witness protection legislation has been sorely felt for many years. Pursuant to the directions of the High Court of Delhi (passed in a number of cases) the Delhi State Government has notified the ‘Delhi Witness Protection Scheme, 2015’.
A Bird’s eye view of the Scheme
- Individualised protection to witnesses according to threat perception
Under the scheme, witnesses are categorised under three categories, depending on the threat perception.
Depending on the threat, there will be three categories of witnesses. These will include :
- Category A: Witness and family members face threat to life during investigation or after that;
- Category B: Threat to safety, reputation or property of the witness or his family during investigation; and
- Category C: Threats of moderate nature and harassment.
Witness Protection Cell of Delhi Police
The government has established a witness protection cell under the Delhi Police, which will be headed by an assistant commissioner of police (ACP) or deputy commissioner of police (DCP).
Nature of Protection
- Among the steps suggested are prohibiting the publication or revealing, in any manner, directly or indirectly, the name, address and other particulars which may lead to the identification of a witness; changing the identity of a witness; relocating the person, facility for in-camera proceedings and ‘live link’, in which a witness can depose without coming to court.
- Other measures to protect witnesses will include taking steps so that an accused is not able to confront the witness or monitor the person’s calls and mails and changing the phone number of the witness or providing him or her with an unlisted number.
- Installing security devices at the person’s home, guarding the person’s residence, providing escort vehicles to the witness will be some of the other measures for protection.
Competent Authority for the implemention of the Scheme
The Delhi State Legal Services Authority has been appointed as the competent authority for the implementation of the scheme.
As per the scheme, the witness facing a threat is required to file an application for protection before the Ld.Member Secretary/Officer on Special Duty, DSLSA (Competent Authority) which has to be routed through the Public Prosecutor.
There will be a witness protection fund, which will get funds from budgetary alllocations, fines deposited in court and donations or contributions from institutions and individuals.
Role of the Trial Court
On first blush it appears that the magistrate has little role to play as far as witness protection is concerned as the applications have to be made before the Competent Authority via the Public Prosecutor. However, that would be a legalistic reading of the scheme. The Magistrate too, has a vital role to play in this. The Magistrate establishes a direct dialogue with the witness at various stages of the investigation; therefore, in appropriate cases, where there is sufficient cause to believe that a threat to the witness exists, there is nothing that prevents the Magistrate from referring the case to the DSLSA for consideration under the scheme even without a formal application. The witnesses’s oral request may be treated as an application (Reading the word ‘Application’ liberally and purposively) Considering the fact that most witness are laypersons without legal advise and knowledge as to their rights, this much latitude will go on to serve the spirit of the scheme.
(The Witness Protection Scheme can be accessed from http://dslsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/273286063-Delhi-Witness-Protection-Scheme-2015.pdf)