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Need to punish hostile witnesses, protect genuine ones: Delhi HC

india Updated: May 23, 2013 01:04 IST
Harish Nair
Harish Nair
Hindustan Times
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Ordering prosecution of two key witnesses in the Jessica Lal case for lying after taking an oath, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday said Indian law does not take into account the causes for this "malaise" that has plagued the prosecutions.

Issuing a slew of directions aimed at witness protection, a bench headed by justice S Ravindra Bhat, which put bollywood actor Shyan Munshi and ballistic expert PS Manocha to trial for perjury, said "seriousness of perjury can be seen in the increasing trend of witnesses turning hostile, leading to acquittal of offenders in a large number of criminal proceedings."

The court emphasised giving protection to witnesses on the basis of threat perception.

It sought an action taken report on its directions for witnesses' protection from the Delhi Government in 10 weeks.

"Beyond the bare fact of the hostility of the witness and the application or administration of penal law (perjury), the legal regime in India does not recognise the underlying causes for this malaise that has plagued criminal prosecutions," the court said.

The bench said while the witnesses who are threatened need to be protected, those that abuse the system by turning hostile for monetary or other considerations should be dealt with severely and made to stand trial.

"Witnesses who need to be supported and protected from threats of harm to themselves or their family members or even their business interests should be given wholehearted and unconditional protection," the bench said.

The court said agencies such as the police, CBI and NIA should conduct threat assessment of witnesses and their family members. If they (agencies) find that threats are serious, then the witnesses be provided assistance from a fund. It asked the government to create a witness protection fund for this purpose.

"In any event, the law enforcement agencies (police, CBI or the National Investigation Agency) shall conduct an assessment of the threat or potential for danger to any witness or witnesses, cited in criminal trials.

"If such threats are assessed to be sufficiently serious, and the witnesses request law enforcement assistance, witness protection funds can be used to provide assistance to witnesses which helps law enforcement keep witnesses safe and help ensure witnesses appear in court and provide testimony," it said.