Delhi High Court asks government to come up with a witness protection program in 10 weeks

New Delhi The Delhi High Court on Wednesday directed the city government to come up with a witness protection policy within ten weeks to ensure that the witnesses are not harassed or intimidated by the accused in criminal cases.

Observing that witnesses are "bulwarks" in a criminal case, a bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and G P Mittal said that they should not be allowed to come under pressure as has been seen "in case after case" and it is the duty of the government to provide adequate protection to them.

"The perception of such power being wielded liberally and without compunction, to harass, intimidate, or often win over witnesses, is widespread. There is no gain saying that such perception is borne out in case after case, when witnesses who are considered bulwarks of the prosecution version turn turtle and do not support the state," the bench said.

It referred to witness protection laws of various foreign countries and issued slew of directions to the city government to initiate the programme till enactment of any law in the country.

The bench gave the direction in its 103-page verdict directing prosecution of Bollywood actor Shyan Munshi and a ballistic expert for turning hostile in the sensational Jessica Lall murder case.

"Acting within the scope of its power, it is of the opinion that suitable directions to the executive, particularly the concerned officials and authorities of the NCT to evolve a witness protection program which would ensure fairness of the trial process, secure the public interest in protection of witnesses, and at the same time take care that none of the accused's rights to a fair trial are compromised, are evolved and implemented," the bench said.

In addition, the bench asked the trial court to entertain any application filed by the witnesses for protection and the prosecuting agency to start its assessment within three days and provide security to the witness.

Stating that the direction is binding on Delhi government till it is replaced by suitable legislation, the bench said "The Delhi government shall prepare an Action Taken Report, and place it before the Court, at the end of ten weeks."

The bench referred the matter to Chief Justice to convert the matter as PIL and set up a special bench to monitor the witness protection programme of the city government.

Story First Published: May 22, 2013 22:21 IST

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