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Comprehensive scheme for witness protection needed

Comprehensive scheme for witness protection needed
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Metropolitan Sessions Judge, Visakhapatnam, GV Krishnaiah, pronounced a judgement on 02-03-2013 in a sessions case where the charges against the...

Metropolitan Sessions Judge, Visakhapatnam, GV Krishnaiah, pronounced a judgement on 02-03-2013 in a sessions case where the charges against the accused were for the offences punishable under Sections 307, 427 and 506 of IPC. According to the charge-sheet as well as evidence of the investigating officer, the accused is a youngster addicted to vices and is a rowdy-sheeter too, facing the charges of murder in another case. The charge against the accused was that in broad daylight he tried to stab PW1, (prosecuting witness) with a view to murder him and when residents nearby intervened to rescue the prosecuting witness, the accused threatened them with dire consequences and picked up a stone and beat PW1 with it on his mouth. PW1 suffered a bleeding injury and one tooth was lost. Seven witnesses were examined on the prosecution side. Documentary evidence was marked and material objects connected to the offence were also exhibited. After conclusion of the trial, while appreciating the merits of the case, the judge observed that none of the prosecution witnesses has fully supported the case of prosecution. Prosecuting witnesses 2 to 5 (PWs 2 to 5), who were supposed to be the eye-witnesses of the offence, turned hostile. Ordinarily, a case of this type would have ended in an acquittal before any trial court. However, the judge took notice of the fact that the accused was a rowdy-sheeter and the witnesses of the prosecution have turned hostile. The judge has shown his judicial valour by ordering a retrial in this case in his eagerness to do justice. Perhaps, this is the first judgement where the trial court on its own directed a retrial. The message given by the trial court is loud and clear. It says that there is no adequate witness protection in trial courts, especially when rowdy-sheeters are prosecuted. Majority of the witnesses can be easily intimidated or induced in our system. The Metropolitan Sessions Judge deserves full praise in his endeavour. The judge states in his judgement "there is a whale of difference between a rowdy-sheeter causing injuries to an innocent person in full public glare and an incident of causing hurt occurring between two persons out of heated argument or some other dispute. When a rowdy-sheeter commits an offence in public glare, it is done with the knowledge that nobody would come forward to give evidence against him which is exactly what has happened in this case." In another paragraph of the judgement, the judge mentions "the situation prevailing in this particular sessions case is not a single instance of witnesses not supporting the prosecution case for valid reasons. This situation prevails in other criminal cases where rowdy-sheeter and notorious criminals are involved. There are number of killers in the society some of them facing four or five murder cases and successfully getting acquittal in all the cases. Acquittal in the first murder case results in killer being feared by the ordinary citizens. As far as the acquitted accused is concerned, the very acquittal is his investment in pursuit of earning money by resorting to rowdyism. A study would definitely reveal that criminal courts routinely record the evidence of witnesses who do not support the case of prosecution and victims also who say that they did not even report to the police. What is happening in the society does not stand to common sense because it can never be presumed that so many victims had given false reports and so many IOs had filed false charge-sheets. In non-compoundable criminal cases where the accused is a powerful man either a rowdy-sheeter or a hired killer or a rich person, the witnesses are managed either by threat or by inducement of money. The role of the courts has become almost nominal in criminal cases where the accused manages to successfully threaten or induce the main witnesses and victims. Charging these victims of offence for perjury will not serve the purpose particularly when the witness is threatened. No scheme of witness protection is in place. But a Criminal Court discharging its duties in cases where the State is prosecuting the accused, the ultimate aim being maintenance of law and order, court cannot go on closing its eyes to the reality of hundreds of cases ending in acquittal because of main witnesses and victims turning hostile". The observations of the judge about there being no scheme of witness protection are definitely an aspect which needs widespread debate. This judgement raises two important issues, each inextricably linked to the other. The first issue is there is no scheme of arrangement for witness protection in criminal courts and the second is, where the rowdy-sheeter is the accused and where all the witnesses strangely turn hostile or do not support the case of prosecution certainly a roving enquiry is necessary. In such a case to know the truth, to deliver justice one will have to certainly lift the veil and look deep. The entire system of criminal administration of justice is anti-complainant and against the witnesses. The system is totally convenient to the accused. Witnesses are examined in court in sessions cases several years after the episode. The situation calls for a comprehensive solution from the police, lawyers, judges and policy-makers. The writer is a senior advocate practising in Visakhapatnam He can be contacted at tvsk_kanakaraju@yahoo.co.in
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