Mar 11, 2022

5 things you didn’t know about Witness Protection

In a recent judgement, the Madras High Court observed that the Witness Protection Scheme of 2018 has not provided confidence to witnesses to come out with the truth against hardcore criminals.

  1. What is the Witness Protection Scheme?

The Witness Protection Scheme was established to encourage witnesses to come forward to assist law enforcement and judicial authorities, with full assurance of their safety. The Scheme aims to identify measures that can be adopted to safeguard witnesses and their family members from threats against their lives, reputation and property.

In Mahendar Chawla v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that all States and Union Territories should legally enforce the Scheme.

  1. Who is a witness?

A witness is a person who has information or documents related to certain offences. The Scheme is applicable only to a witness who has information about:

  1. A crime for which the punishment is death or life imprisonment; or
  2. A crime which is punishable with at least 7 years of imprisonment; or
  3. Sexual crimes including sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking etc.

3. What are the different categories of witnesses?

The Scheme provides protection for witnesses based on a threat assessment. When a witness applies for protection, a senior police officer will submit a detailed ‘Threat Analysis Report’ regarding the seriousness and believability of the threat against the witness. The Report will contain specific details about the nature of the threat and the person making the threat. Based on various factors, the Report can categorize the witness as per threat perception, into the following categories:

Category ‘A’: If the threat is against the life of the witness or his family members, during or after the investigation/trial.

Category ‘B’: If the threat targets the safety, reputation or property of the witness or his family members, during or after the investigation/trial.

Category ‘C’: If the threat is of a moderate nature covering harassment or intimidation of the witness or his family members, their reputation or property, during or after the investigation/trial.

  1. What types of protection measures are provided?

The protection measures provided for a witness will be proportionate to the threat, and can remain in place for 3 months at a time. The protection measures include protection/change of identity of witnesses, their relocation, installation of security devices at the residence of witnesses, usage of specially designed Court rooms, etc.

  1. How can you apply for witness protection?

If you are a witness with information about any offence given above, you can apply for witness protection in order to tackle threats or intimidation.

You will have to file an application for protection to the authorised Standing Committee of the District where the offence was committed. The application can be filed along with supporting documents if needed.

When an application is filed, the Member Secretary of the Committee will order a Threat Analysis Report to be submitted by the police within 5 working days. After receiving the Report, the Committee may pass a Witness Protection Order. The Committee has to make its decision within 5 working days of getting the Report.

Irrespective of this procedure, if you or your family members face an immediate and serious threat to your lives, the police will have to give you protection.

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