Report No. 154
Protection and Facilities to Witnesses
1. The absence of witnesses or even their presence in the Courts of non-examination and the absence of a system of day-to-day hearing are some of the main causes for the delays. In many workshops held, it was highlighted that there is a plenty of justification for the reluctance of witnesses to come forward to attend courts promptly in obedience to the summons.
It was also highlighted that an important reason for the reluctance of the public to co-operate with the law enforcement agencies and actively associate themselves with proceedings in the course is the fact that their attendance in courts entails a lot of inconvenience and harassment.
Added to this, the listing of large number of cases and adjourning them at the fag end of the day is also an important factor which makes the witnesses refrain from coming forward to co-operate with the law enforcement agencies either at the investigation or during the trial. This is despite section 174, I.P.C. and section 350, Cr. P.C. which provide for punishment for non-attendance by witnesses in obedience to the summons issued by the court.
2. It is said that the plight of witnesses appearing on behalf of the state against a criminal is pitiable. While adjourning the case at the fag end of the day after keeping the witness waiting for the whole day and while fixing the next date, their convenience is not at all kept in view and if he fails to turn up on the next date, harsh steps are taken against him. Even if he appears on the adjourned date, the chances are that the case would be adjourned again.
After suffering all these inconveniences even if he appears and evidence is recorded, he is brow beaten by over-zealous defence counsel or declared hostile or unreliable by the prosecutor. Even after undergoing this agonising experience the poor witness is not compensated for the loss of earnings of the day. Even his pocket expenses incurred are not reimbursed by anybody. Besides, there are no facilities provided whatsoever for the witness to make their long waiting in the courts bearable.
Even basic amenities that are needed are not provided for to this poor lot in the court premises. Thus they have to suffer not only indignities and inconvenience but also have to spend time and money. Added to this, they have to incur the wrath of the accused, particularly hardened criminals which results in their life being at great peril. Because of this traumatic time consuming and humiliating experience, many respectable keep themselves away.
3. The allowances paid to the witnesses are very meager because the rates of allowances are totally inadequate. Thus, there is an immediate need to enhance the rates and that witnesses summoned to the court should be paid better regardless of whether he is examined or not. Further, the procedure for disbursement of the allowances should not be cumbersome.
4. The Law Commission in its Fourteenth Report1 as well as the National Police Commission in its Fourth Report2 had examined these issues in depth and have firmly recommended substantive measures to alleviate the difficulties of the witnesses. In the Conference of Director Generals of Police held in 1974, it was also recommended that the witnesses should be provided sufficient protection. It has to be remembered that in the present system a poor witness is caught between the devil and deep sea.
If he fails to attend the court, he shall be penalty liable and if he attends, he undergoes an agonising experience resulting in great inconvenience and loss. In this situation, all the measures necessary to create good atmosphere, instilling confidence and faith in the system in the minds of the witnesses have to be immediately chalked out and implemented.
1. Fourteenth Report of the Law Commission, (1958).
2. Fourth Report of the National Police Commission, para. 28.15, (1980).
5. It is also pertinent to note that all causes of aversion and reluctance on the part of the witnesses should be removed. Such an effort should be there even from the stage of their examination by the police by treating them in friendly manner and giving self-confidence by giving adequate protection for them.
6. We recommend that the allowances payable to the witnesses for their attendance in courts should be fixed on a realistic basis and that payment should be effected through a simple procedure which would avoid delay and inconvenience. Section 312 of Cr. P.C. and the rules- made thereunder will have to be suitably amended. They should be paid allowances for all the days they attend. Adequate facilities should be provided in the court premises for their stay.
The treatment afforded to them right from the stage of investigation upto the stage of conclusion of the trial should be in a fitting manner giving them due respect and removing all causes which contribute to any anguish on their part. Necessary confidence has to be created in the minds of the witnesses that they would be protected from the wrath of the accused in any eventuality.
7. Listing of the cases should be done in such a way that the witnesses who are summoned are examined on the day they are summoned and adjournments should be avoided meticulously. The lists should be prepared in such a way that a day or two are devoted continuously to all cases of a particular police station and cases should not be proceeded mechanically just according to the chronological order regardless of the fact of the likelihood of their being tried or not. The courts also should proceed with trial on a day-to-day basis and the listing of the cases should be on those lines. The High Courts should issue necessary circulars to all the criminal courts giving guidelines for listing of cases.