- As per the Supreme Court, all states would be directed to implement the draft witness protection scheme framed by the Centre in consultation with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).
- Under the scheme, witnesses are categorised under three categories, depending on the threat perception.
Importance of Witness protection?
- The importance of a witness can be gauged from the observation of following cases:
- Himanshu Singh Sabharwal Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors. 2008 case
- The Supreme Court observed that witnesses are the eyes and ears of the justice system and when a witness is threatened or killed or harassed, it is not only the witness who is threatened but also the fundamental right of a citizen to a free and fair trial is vindicated.
- Protection of the witness is the duty of the state and when state fails to protect a witness, it actually fails to uphold the national motto – Satyamev Jayate.
- Neelam Katara versus Union of India case
- SC observed that the edifice of administration of justice is based upon witnesses coming forward and deposing without fear or favour, without intimidation or allurements in court of law.
- If witnesses are intimidated or allured, the foundation of administration of justice gets weakened and even obliterated.
- The issue of witness protection scheme had cropped up earlier when the top court was hearing a PIL seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases, involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu.
- The petitioners, who are witnesses in cases related to Asaram, have sought a probe into the instances of alleged attacks and disappearances of witnesses in these cases
- The court had asked the Centre to finalise the scheme after getting response from the states and Union Territories (Since police and public order are State Subjects under the seventh Schedule to the Constitution, the state governments are responsible for witness protection also.)
- Based on the inputs received from majority of the states, a draft witness protection scheme is finalised in consultation with the NALSA.
- In April 2018, the Centre had informed the Supreme Court that it had framed a draft witness protection scheme and it was circulated among the states and Union Territories administration for comments.
- The draft scheme, which has now been finalised, would be made into a law, in due course, but till then the court should direct the states to start implementing it.
- The witness protection scheme can be implemented for at least sensitive cases and the MHA could come out with a comprehensive plan.
- In the capital, Delhi, however, the authorities already took the important initiative to introduce a Witness Protection Scheme in 2015.
About National Legal Services Authority (NALSA)
- National Legal Services Authority of India (NALSA) was formed on 5 December 1995 under the authority of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987.
- Its purpose is to provide free legal services to eligible candidates (defined in Sec. 12 of the Act), and to organize Lok Adalats for speedy resolution of cases.
- The Chief Justice of India is patron-in-chief of NALSA while second seniormost judge of Supreme Court of India is the Executive-Chairman.
- There is a provision for similar mechanism at state and district level also headed by Chief Justice of High Courts and Chief Judges of District courts respectively.
- The prime objective of NALSA is speedy disposal of cases and reducing the burden of judiciary.