Updated: Mar 14, 2021
Bentham, one of the celebrated philosophers of law had once said, “witnesses are eyes and ears of justice”. The role of witnesses is very crucial in the justice system. The decision-making is done on the basis of evidence served. The witnesses are known to have provided first hand evidence especially in criminal law, where the former would have actually seen the occurrence of events. Thus they play an integral role in judgment- making.
Starting on this note the Supreme Court approved the draft Witness Protection Scheme as framed by the Central Government, in the judgment of Mahender Chawla v UOI. The measure though crucial cannot be considered as a jolting move for it was a long- standing and an obvious demand of the justice system. As precisely pointed out by Wadhwa J, while emphasising regarding issue of hostile witnesses; the witnesses go through a lot of sufference and trauma not only by the police and the parties, but seldom in the hands of judiciary too, when the after waiting for a whole day they are suddenly faced with adjournment of their hearing; discouraging them to contribute in the process.
But these problems are mostly secondary; what accords the most to the problem is the danger and threat which is always lingering upon them. The witnesses are placed in such a position because they often know such information which shall be detrimental to one party in the court of law; leading to quite adverse consequences for them. Since they work for the furtherenace of justice, a duty which in actuality is bestowed upon the State; their protection too, is the duty of the latter.
As pointed out in the Law Commission Report, the cases which come beforehand include those of terrorism, sexual harrassment or regarding juveniles, where the witnesses are undeniably the vulnerable people. The danger and threat becomes more common in such scenes, causing a major hinderance in the process of fair trial and ultimately leading to injustice.
This problem is well known and long realised; and certain steps have been taken to combat this, either in form of legislation or through the judgments of court. But these have been applicable only on cases to case basis, and a general body of rules was not formulated to be applied in all cases and in whole of India simultaneously.
Hence the Central Government came up after approval from 18 States and UTs, with the Witness Protection Scheme. The Scheme so drafted has provisions ranging from allocating funds for the witness protection to procedural measures and witness allocation too; forming a single body of law to combat in cases of all types and contingencies which might appear, including the ones for a solid protection of evidences attained.
Going through the whole Scheme, the Apex Court approved of it and thence ordered establishment of witness deposition complexes to be set up by State and UTs on the finance and guidance of the Central Government.
 2018 SCC Online SC 1778.  3 (2000) 5 SCC 68 at 678  198th Report.  Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), 2002, Section 30; (2004) 5 SCC 518, 1966 (3) SCR 744, AIR 1984 SC 1591, (1995) 1 SCC 14, (2001) 4 SCC 667, (2002) SLT 587.  Supra note 1.
Author -Pragati Gupta
Student of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.