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Start scheme to protect witnesses: Supreme Court to states

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ scheme, vetted by the court, proposes to keep the witness’ identity a secret, hold in-camera hearings in specially designed courts where the witness does not come face to face with the accused.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 06, 2018, 12.16 PM IST
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Supreme Court approves witness protection scheme for all states
Supreme Court approves witness protection scheme for all states
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered all states and union territories to immediately implement a scheme intended to protect witnesses in criminal cases to prevent them from turning hostile, a fact blamed for the low conviction rates in criminal trials in the country.

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ scheme, vetted by the court, proposes to keep the witness’ identity a secret, hold in-camera hearings in specially designed courts where the witness does not come face to face with the accused and ensure protection and relocation of witnesses in extreme cases of threats to his life.

Under the scheme, a competent district authority, chaired by the district and sessions judge with the head of the police as member and head of the prosecution as the member secretary, will deal with applications by any witness, his family member or friend seeking protection.

Such applications will be disposed of in five days with an assessment of the threat perception by the local police. The respective courts will have witness protection cells to implement it, except in case of a witness relocation which will be carried out by the state home department.

There will also be a Witness Protection Fund to bear the expenses incurred in protecting a witness. The protection measures shall be proportionate to the threat and for a specific duration not exceeding three months at a time.

These may include steps to ensure that the witness does not come face to face with the accused during investigation or trial; monitoring of mail and telephone calls; change in witness’s phone number, installation of security devices in his home, concealing his identity, etc.

In other cases, emergency contact persons will be arranged for the witness; there will be regular patrolling around his house and he will be allowed to temporarily change his residence to a relative’s house or nearby town. He will also be escorted to and from the court and allowed to have a support person during recording of statement.
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