Policy on witness protection to be framed in 3 months

In the light of the observations made by the Law Commission of India on providing protection to witnesses, the division bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka of Bombay High Court directed Maharashtra government to frame a fresh policy on providing protection to witnesses within three months. Court also expects that, the new policy should have a provision for wider protection measures including protection to family members of witnesses.

The bench also directed the Government to ensure the protection to witnesses even when investigation is underway if the witness applies to the investigating officer in writing or orally until the new policy is formulated.

Court while hearing the Public Interest Litigation, observed the term witness should include not only those who are going to depose in the court but anybody who possesses information and documents related to a crime.

As per the recommendations of the Law Commission, witness protection measures must be taken up right from the stage of investigation to ensure that witnesses feel secure and come to the court to record evidence, Bench observed. The bench also suggested that there should be a provision of continuance of protection even after the trial or appeal proceedings are over; the state should also consider creating a separate dedicated fund for these protection measures.

The Bench observed that, “while framing the policy under the GR dated April 11, 2014, the state government completely glossed over 198th Report of the Law Commission on the witness identity protection and witness protection programmes“. It was also noted that, Courts have come across cases where due to threat perception or after considering the antecedents of the accused and the gravity of the offence, witnesses fail to co-operate with investigating officers. Hence, court opined that, there should be a provision to give protection to witnesses’ right from the probe stage.

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