HC directs Uttarakhand to give security to witnesses in sensitive crime cases

Uttarakhand high court on Monday directed the state government to install security devices like close circuit television (CCTV) cameras, alarms, and boundary fencing at the residence of witnesses during the pendency of a trial. In an order that would go a long way in protecting witnesses in heinous or sensitive crime cases, the court directed the government to change their identity if they request so. Disposing an appeal in a 2008 murder case, a bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Alok Singh directed the Uttarakhand government to frame within six months rules for witness protection under the Uttarakhand Police Act, 2007.

HT has a copy of the order. The bench also directed the state police to grant protection to the witnesses and their family members during the course of investigation, inquiry, trial, and even after the conclusion of trial till the threat persists.

It directed the government to ensure that the “witnesses in heinous and sensitive matters are insured on the short-term or long-term basis by the state government to enable them to fearlessly testify before the court”. The court also directed all criminal courts in Uttarakhand to hold trials on day-to-day basis. The reporting officers have been told to enter adverse remarks in annual confidential reports of the judicial officers who do not hold trials on day-to-day basis.

The order maintained that Uttarakhand was the first state to make an enactment for protection of witnesses by way of Section 54 of the Uttarakhand Police Act, 2007. “However, the state government, till date, has not framed any rules to give effect to Section 54 of the Act, 2007 for witness protection as a measure of Human Rights Protection. The Act has received the assent of the Governor on January 2, 2008…,” the order read.

The bench directed the government to frame the rules under Section 54 of the Uttarakhand Police Act, 2007 within a period of six months and make suitable amendment in the Indian Penal Code to punish the persons inducing any witness to give false statement. “The state government, while framing the rules, must ensure to protect the life, liberty, reputation, and property of the witnesses as well,” the order said. The court said that the “police must have emergency contact numbers of witnesses, close protection for them, regular patrolling around their house, escort them to and from the court to their home with the provision of a government vehicle or a state-funded conveyance on the date of hearing.” The government has also been told to ensure providing “a separate room for the witnesses to sit and relax while waiting for their turn to depose during the trial”.

The bench, in its order, emphasized that “it is a duty of the entire system to instil confidence in the minds of the witnesses that they would be protected from the wrath of the accused. There is a hesitation to depose against people with muscle power, money power, or political clout. The witnesses turn hostile due to threats, coercion, lures, and monetary consideration at times.

The judges should be held accountable for not holding the trial on day to day basis…”.

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