Shielding witnesses: on protection scheme

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Shielding witnesses: on protection scheme

A robust witness protection scheme will strengthen the criminal justice system
The witness protection programme is at last in place. Pending legislation(कानून,) by Parliament, the Supreme Court has asked States to implement(लागू/अमल में लाना) a scheme framed by the Centre to protect witnesses(गवाहों/सबूत) in criminal trials from threat(आशंका/खतरे), intimidation(धमकी/डांट) and undue(अनुचित) influence(प्रभाव/प्रतिष्ठा). Given the abysmal(मात्र) rate of convictions(दोषसिद्धि/आस्था) in the country, it is inexcusable(क्षमा न करने योग्य) that it took so long. The need to protect witnesses has been emphasized(ज़ोर ) by Law Commission reports and court judgments for years. Witnesses turning hostile is a major reason for most acquittals(दोषमुक्ति/रिहाई). In the current system, there is little incentive(प्रोत्साहन) for witnesses to turn up in court and testify(बयान /साक्ष्य देना) against(खिलाफ) criminals. Besides threats to their lives, they experience hostility(शत्रुता ) and harassment(उत्पीड़न) while attending courts. The tardy judicial process seldom takes into account the distance they have travelled or the time they have lost in attending court, only to be told they have to return another day. As Justice A.K. Sikri points out, the condition of witnesses in the Indian legal system is “pathetic(दयनीय/निराश)”, as it takes them for granted. It is gratifying that the court has played a proactive(सक्रिय) role in getting the Centre and the States to come up with a concrete (ठोस )proposal. The Centre deserves credit for coming forward to suggest that its draft witness protection scheme be introduced by judicial mandate(आदेश/आज्ञापत्र) instead of waiting for formal legislation.

In its minutiae the scheme appears(रूप लेना/आकृति करना) workable, but its efficacy(प्रभाव/गुण) will be confirmed only with the passage of time. It broadly classifies witnesses in need of protection into three types based on the threat assessment(आकलन). A witness protection order will be passed by a competent(सक्षम/योग्य ) authority(प्राधिकारी). The scheme is to be funded by budgetary support from State governments and donations. This is at variance(परिवर्तन/मतभेद) with the Law Commission’s recommendation in 2006 that the Centre and the States share the cost equally. Basic features such as in camera trial, proximate(निकट/समीप) physical protection and anonymising of testimony and references to witnesses in the records are not difficult to implement. The real test will be the advanced forms of identity protection: giving witnesses a new identity, address and even ‘parentage’, with matching documents. All this needs to be done without undermining their professional and property rights and educational qualifications. The introduction of the scheme marks a leap(उछलना/कूदना) forward. Until now, there have been ad hoc steps such as those outlined for concealing(छिपाना) the identity of witnesses in anti-terrorism and child-centric laws. A few dedicated(समर्पित) courtrooms for vulnerable(चपेट में/आलोचनीय) witnesses, mostly child victims(पीड़ित), are also functional. However, expanding(विस्तार such facilities and implementing a comprehensive(विस्तृत) and credible witness protection programme will pose logistical and financial challenges. It will be well worth the effort, as the scheme could help strengthen(मज़बूत बनाना) India’s tottering(अशांत) criminal justice system.

 

 

Important Vocabulary

1. Convictions(दोषसिद्धि/आस्था)
Synonyms: confidence, faith, feeling, principle, sentiment
Antonyms: distrust, doubt, disbelief, unbelief, overturning

2. Acquittals(दोषमुक्ति/रिहाई)
Synonyms: absolution, amnesty, clearance, deliverance, discharge
Antonyms: employment, hiring, hold, retention, blame

3. Proactive(सक्रिय)
Synonyms: aggressive, anxious, ardent, banzai, can-do

4. Pathetic(दयनीय/निराश)”
Synonyms: deplorable, feeble, heartbreaking, miserable, pitiful
Antonyms: cheerful, excellent, glad, good, happy

5. Influence(प्रभाव/प्रतिष्ठा)
Synonyms: clout, consequence, control, domination, effect
Antonyms: beginning, cause, commencement, insignificance, origin

6. Implement(लागू/अमल में लाना
Synonyms: appliance, gadget, instrument, utensil, apparatus

7.Concrete (ठोस )
Synonyms: detailed, material, objective, particular, real
Antonyms: general, indefinite, unimportant, abstract, bending

8. Inexcusable(क्षमा न करने योग्य)
Synonyms: impermissible, indefensible, intolerable, outrageous, reprehensible
Antonyms: acceptable, good, excusable, forgivable, justifiable

9. Appears(रूप लेना/आकृति करना)
Synonyms: arrive, come, come out, crop up, develop
Antonyms: abandon, conceal, depart, disappear, go

10. Competent(सक्षम/योग्य )
Synonyms: adequate, capable, decent, efficient, proficient
Antonyms: impotent, incapable, incompetent, inept, insufficient

11. Proximate(निकट/समीप)
Synonyms: direct, forthcoming, imminent, near, nearby

12. Efficacy(प्रभाव/गुण)
Synonyms: adequacy, competence, effectiveness, potency, virtue
Antonyms: inadequacy, ineffectiveness, enervation, failure, idleness

13. Assessment(आकलन).
Synonyms: appraisal, estimate, judgment, computation, determination

14. Dedicated(समर्पित)
Synonyms: committed, devoted, enthusiastic, faithful, zealous
Antonyms: apathetic, disloyal, inconstant, indifferent, lethargic

15. Concealing(छिपाना)
Synonyms: bury, camouflage, cloak, cover, cover up
Antonyms: disregard, ignore, reveal, uncover, unwrap

16. Strengthen(मज़बूत बनाना)
Synonyms: bolster, build up, enhance, enlarge, establish
Antonyms: abridge, condense, curtail, decrease, destroy

17. Tottering(अशांत)
Synonyms: dizzy, fluctuating, moving, suspect, teetering

 

Credit To The Hindu News Paper

A robust witness protection scheme will strengthen the criminal justice system
The witness protection programme is at last in place. Pending legislation by Parliament, the Supreme Court has asked States to implement a scheme framed by the Centre to protect witnesses in criminal trials from threat, intimidation and undue influence. Given the abysmal rate of convictions in the country, it is inexcusable that it took so long. The need to protect witnesses has been emphasised by Law Commission reports and court judgments for years. Witnesses turning hostile is a major reason for most acquittals. In the current system, there is little incentive for witnesses to turn up in court and testify against criminals. Besides threats to their lives, they experience hostility and harassment while attending courts. The tardy judicial process seldom takes into account the distance they have travelled or the time they have lost in attending court, only to be told they have to return another day. As Justice A.K. Sikri points out, the condition of witnesses in the Indian legal system is “pathetic”, as it takes them for granted. It is gratifying that the court has played a proactive role in getting the Centre and the States to come up with a concrete proposal. The Centre deserves credit for coming forward to suggest that its draft witness protection scheme be introduced by judicial mandate instead of waiting for formal legislation.

In its minutiae the scheme appears workable, but its efficacy will be confirmed only with the passage of time. It broadly classifies witnesses in need of protection into three types based on the threat assessment. A witness protection order will be passed by a competent authority. The scheme is to be funded by budgetary support from State governments and donations. This is at variance with the Law Commission’s recommendation in 2006 that the Centre and the States share the cost equally. Basic features such as in camera trial, proximate physical protection and anonymising of testimony and references to witnesses in the records are not difficult to implement. The real test will be the advanced forms of identity protection: giving witnesses a new identity, address and even ‘parentage’, with matching documents. All this needs to be done without undermining their professional and property rights and educational qualifications. The introduction of the scheme marks a leap forward. Until now, there have been ad hoc steps such as those outlined for concealing the identity of witnesses in anti-terrorism and child-centric laws. A few dedicated courtrooms for vulnerable witnesses, mostly child victims, are also functional. However, expanding such facilities and implementing a comprehensive and credible witness protection programme will pose logistical and financial challenges. It will be well worth the effort, as the scheme could help strengthen India’s tottering criminal justice system.