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Implementation of witness protection programme hits a bump over funding

india Updated: Oct 22, 2017 23:43 IST
Witness protection programme,Law commission,Supreme court

(Representative image)

A Law Commission-recommended witness protection programme to safeguard public interest in criminal cases appears to have hit a roadblock due to a lack of consensus among states and funding issues.

The Union ministry of women and child development told the Supreme Court as much during the hearing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the safety of women held last month.

“Law Commission’s report, if accepted, was to be implemented through administrative measures by the states… There is no consensus amongst the states on it,” stated the ministry’s affidavit submitted before a bench headed by Justice MB Lokur.

The court was hearing a PIL filed after the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a moving bus in Delhi on December 16, 2012.

In its affidavit, the Centre informed the court that the Law Commission’s ‘198th Report on Witness Identity Protection and Witness Protection Programmes’ of 2006 was forwarded to states for inputs since the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) is a subject of the concurrent list and is administered through local governments.

Besides, the scheme also involves large-scale financial commitments from the states.

Since the response from the states was not positive, the Centre entrusted the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) in November 2016 with the task of examining the concerns raised by them regarding the feasibility of the programme and also look into the financial implications of the scheme.

The affidavit said a reminder was sent to the BPR&D in September regarding the matter.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising, who is assisting the court in the case, said it was unfortunate the scheme did not receive much support and that it was a setback in the way of securing conviction in rape cases.

“Victims of sexual assault need protection from day one because it is difficult to navigate the system alone. Also, it is not all about the victim getting justice. It is in public interest that the rape accused gets convicted. Administration has to ensure rapists do not reach the victim and persuade her to drop prosecution,” she said.

Recently, a separate bench headed by Justice AK Sikri issued notices to the Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat government over another PIL on a national witness protection programme initiative.

The petition has been filed by several witnesses in the Asaram Bapu rape case. During one of the hearings, the bench had expressed concern over the growing trend of witnesses turning hostile in criminal cases, saying it “shakes public confidence in criminal justice system.”

The latest affidavit in the apex court on the issue comes despite the Centre admitting to the need to have a legal provision to protect witnesses.

In 2007, the UPA government had informed the court that it was planning to bring in a new law and opposed a general direction to provide protection to all witnesses.

First Published: Oct 22, 2017 23:43 IST