Friday, October 1, 2010

Protection to witnesses and whistleblowers

In India, during the trial of criminal cases where the accused are influential and powerful, many witnesses turn hostile and some, who do not, get intimidated, attacked and in extreme cases even eliminated by the cohorts and hirelings of the accused. Legal experts have suggested that India should build a system of witness protection on the lines of one in the United States, where the witnesses are given adequate protection by the police and sometimes even relocated to a distant town and provided a new identity. As an important player in the administration of criminal justice, it is definitely the duty of the Indian police to make every effort to ensure the safety and security of a high-risk witness and his or her family and property but the resources available to it are no match to those with its American counterpart. Here providing even 24-hour protection to the witness’ person is very difficult, what to talk of protecting the family and property.

Over and above whatever the police can do, there could be a method of providing additional protection to all witnesses who have given or are giving evidence in criminal cases, and this without deploying any security men or incurring any expenses. And that is through amending the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedures Code, Indian Evidence Act and any other statutes, whichever are applicable, to provide that if within twelve years of giving evidence in a criminal case the witness or members of his/her family suffer intimidation or any harm to their person or property at the hands of any persons, even in road accidents, the complicity of the persons, against whom the witness had given evidence to the police or in a court of law, shall be presumed under law and the onus to prove themselves innocent shall be on such persons.

If this new law is made, it will be in the interest of the accused not to intimidate the witnesses, who had given evidence against them, or to harm them in any manner. Of course, this should be treated only as a secondary protection, the primary being that provided by the police.

The ambit of this new law can be extended to safeguard the interests of whistleblowers and persons seeking information under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

No comments:

Post a Comment