In 2018 the Ministry of Home Affairs came up with the Witness Protection Scheme. The scheme aims to provide protection of witnesses based on the threat assessment. Particularly, the scheme intends at enabling a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully. In addition to this, protection measures are also included as a part of the scheme. Namely:
- protection/change of identity of witnesses,
- their relocation,
- installation of security devices at the residence of witnesses,
- usage of specially designed Courtrooms, etc.
Furthermore, the scheme classifies 3 categories of witnesses as per threat perception during the investigation/trial or thereafter. As a result, creating 3 categories such as:
- ‘A’ Category: Where the threat extends to the life of the witness or his family members, during investigation/trial or thereafter.
- ‘B’ Category: Where the threat extends to the safety, reputation, or property of the witness or his family members, during the investigation/trial or thereafter.
- ‘C’ Category: Where the threat is moderate and extends to harassment or intimidation of the witness or his family member’s, reputation or property, during the investigation/trial or thereafter.
Apart from all this, the scheme also established a State Witness Protection Fund. With the objective to meet all kinds of expenses, this fund came into play. Furthermore, the Department/Ministry of Home operates the Witness Protection Scheme under State/UT Government.
About State Witness Protection Fund:
- It comprises the budgetary allocation made in the Annual Budget by the State Government.
- the courts/tribunals deposit the receipt of the number of costs imposed/ ordered in the Witness Protection Fund;
- The government permits the donations/contributions from philanthropists/ Charitable Institutions/ Organizations and individuals.
- Moreover, funds contributed under Corporate Social Responsibility.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its Judgment dated 05.12.2018 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 156 of 2016 has endorsed the Scheme. As per Article 141/142 of the Constitution, the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 endorsed in the said Judgment of the Supreme Court is binding on all courts within the territory of India and enforceable in all States and Union Territories.
In fact, by quoting Article 21 i.e. Right to Life, the Supreme Court Bench also held the Right of witnesses to testify freely in courts. For this reason, all States and UTs are given orders to set up vulnerable witness deposition complexes. Along with this, directions are given to equip these rooms with facilities to prevent the accused and witnesses from coming face to face.