Report No. 198
(Q) 1. Should witness anonymity be maintained in all the three stages of investigation, inquiry, trial and even at stage of appeal in a criminal case?
As we all know, criminal cases passes through three stages, i.e. investigation, inquiry and trial. After the conclusion of trial, the court pronounces the order/ judgment, and thereafter the stage of appeal/revision starts. If, in respect of a witness, anonymity is required to be maintained, the question arises whether it should be maintained at all the stages mentioned above or whether it should be only for a particular stage?
Most of the respondents (36 out of 43) have opined that anonymity should be maintained in all the three stages including the appellate stage. Not only this, among them 3 were of the view that anonymity should be maintained forever, i.e. even after the case is finally over. However, some of the respondents have suggested that anonymity should be maintained only in exceptional cases.
Justice Anoop V. Mohta of Bombay High Court is of the view that anonymity of witness is required only up-to trial stage and there is no need of maintaining anonymity at the appellate stage. Same is the view of one Public Prosecutor from Hyderabad.
Lt. Col. S.K. Agarwal from Judge Advocate General branch has opined that anonymity should be maintained only during investigation, inquiry and at stage of committal proceedings, if any. But anonymity cannot be effectively maintained once the trial starts. Same is the view of an advocate from Hyderabad.
An Advocate from Tamil Nadu is of the view that anonymity can be maintained only during investigation stage and thereafter maintaining anonymity will affect free and fair trial. Contrary to it an Advocate from Maharashtra is of the view that anonymity can be maintained during inquiry and trial and appeal stage, but should not be maintained during investigation stage, as it will give undue power to police.
Another Advocate from Maharashtra, who is also member of Maharashtra State Law Commission is of the view that considering the social structure in India and the criminal judicial set up, practically it would not be possible to maintain anonymity at any stage of a case.