November 20, 2018

SC to direct all states to implement draft witness protection scheme framed by Centre

Supreme Court Of India

On November 19, considering the issue of the witness protection scheme, the Supreme Court stated that it will direct all states to implement the draft witness protection scheme framed by the Centre in consultation with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

(NALSA provides free Legal Services to the weaker sections of the society and organizes Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes. The Chief Justice of India is patron-in-chief of NALSA, while second senior-most judge of Supreme Court of India is the Executive Chairman. The prime objective of NALSA is speedy disposal of cases and reducing the burden of the judiciary.)

Responding to the court, Attorney General K K Venugopal said that the draft scheme, which has now been finalized, would be made into law "in due course", but till then, the court should direct the states to start implementing it.

In response, the court said, "We will pass an order. We will give directions to all the states to start implementing it (scheme)."

Thereafter, assisting the court as amicus curiae, Advocate Gaurav Agrawal said, "Based on the inputs received from majority of the states, a draft witness protection scheme is finalized in consultation with NALSA." Agrawal added that there are three categories of witnesses in this scheme based on threat perception and that the states should start enforcing it.

The decision to formulate the draft witness protection scheme stems from a case wherein the Supreme Court was hearing a PIL seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled religious leader (Godman) Asaram Bapu.

Earlier, on November 17, 2017, the top court had sought to know why a draft witness protection scheme can’t be formulated for the country when such provisions were already part of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act.

The court had then said, “In the NIA (National Investigation Agency) Act, there are specific provisions for witness protection. Why cannot it be there for all?”

The court had added, “We understand that there are lakhs of cases but it can be done for sensitive cases. Why cannot the Ministry of Home Affairs make out some draft program on witness protection?”

Thereafter, the court had directed all states to file their response on the issue of the implementation of their respective witness protection program.

Subsequently, in April 2018, the Centre had notified the court that it had framed a draft witness protection scheme and that it was circulated among the states and Union Territories administration for comments. The court had then informed the Centre to finalize the scheme after receiving the comments.

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