Feb 26, 2022

Can you get protection if you file a criminal complaint or witness a crime?

The survivor in the alleged rape case against former Karnataka Minister Ramesh Jarkiholi has written to the Karnataka High Court Chief Justice seeking protection for her life and safety. She asked the Court to take note of the threat she is facing, claiming that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the case is acting in tune with the Minister.


In this context, let us look at how Indian law protects witnesses.


What is the Witness Protection Scheme?

The Government established the Witness Protection Scheme to encourage witnesses to come forward to help law enforcement and judicial authorities with full assurance of safety. The Scheme safeguards witnesses and their family members from threats against their lives, reputation and property.


The Supreme Court in the case Mahender Chawla v. Union of India (2018), said that all States and Union Territories should legally enforce the Scheme.


Who is a witness?

A witness is a person who has information or documents that can be used as evidence in a case. The Scheme is applicable only to a witness who has information about:


  • A crime for which the punishment is at least seven years of imprisonment, life imprisonment or death.
  • Sexual crimes including sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking etc.


What are the different categories of witnesses?

The Scheme provides protection for witnesses based on the threat assessment. When a witness applies for protection, a senior police officer submits a detailed ‘Threat Analysis Report’ about the seriousness and believability of the threat against the witness. The report contains specific details about the nature of the threat and the person making the threat. 


Based on various factors, the report categorizes the witness as per threat perception, into the following categories:


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


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


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


What types of protection measures does the Scheme provide?

The Scheme provides protection measures for a witness in proportion to the threat, which can remain in place for three months at a time. The measures include protecting or changing the identity of witnesses, relocating witnesses, installing security devices at their residence, using specially designed Court rooms, etc.


How can a person apply for witness protection?

A witness can apply for witness protection to tackle threats or intimidation. They must 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 five working days. After receiving the Report, the Committee may pass a Witness Protection Order. The Committee must make its decision within five working days of getting the Report.


Irrespective of this procedure, if the witness or their family members face an immediate and serious threat to their lives, the police must protect them.