Report No. 198
5.18 Zahira's case, 2004 (4) SCALE 373: Protection of witnesses
This is also one of the most recent cases. In this case, the Supreme Court dealt with 'witness protection' and the need for a fair trial, whereby fairness is meted out not only to the accused but to the victims/witnesses. On the question of 'witness protection', the Court observed (p.392):
"If the witnesses get threatened or are forced to give false evidence, that also would not result in a fair trial." (Page 394):
"Witnesses, as Bentham said, are the eyes and ears of justice. Hence, the importance and primacy of the quality of trial process. If the witness himself is incapacitated from acting as eyes and ears of justice, the trial gets putrefied and paralysed and it no longer can constitute a fair trial. The incapacitation may be due to several factors like the witness being not in a position for reasons beyond control, to speak the truth in the court or due to negligence or ignorance or some corrupt collusion.
Time has become ripe to act on account of numerous experiences faced by the court on account of frequent turning of witnesses as hostile, either due to threats, coercion, lures and monetary considerations at the instance of those in power, their henchmen and hirelings, political clouts and patronage and innumerable other corrupt practices ingeniously adopted to smother and stifle truth and realities coming out to surface. Broader public and social interest require that the victims of the crime who are not ordinarily parties to prosecution and the interests of State representing by their presenting agencies do not suffer (p.395) there comes the need for protecting the witnesses.
Time has come when serious and undiluted thoughts are to be bestowed for protecting witnesses so that ultimate truth presented before the Court and justice triumphs and that the trial is not reduced to mockery. The State has a definite role to play in protecting the witnesses, to start with at least in sensitive cases involving those in power, who have political patronage and could wield muscle and money power. As a protector of its citizens, it has to ensure that during trial in court, the witness could safely depose truth without any fear of being haunted by those against whom he has deposed."
"Legislative measures to emphasize prohibition against tampering with witness, victim or informant, have become the imminent and inevitable need of the day." (Page 399)[Referring to UK]:
"The Director of Prosecution plays a vital role in the prosecution system. He even administers 'witness protection programmes'. Several countries for example, Australia, Canada and USA have even enacted legislation in this regard. The Witness Protection Programmes are imperative as well as imminent in the context of alarming rate of summersaults by witnesses with ulterior motive and purely for personal gain or fear for security. It would be a welcome step if something in those lines is done in our country. That would be a step in the right direction for a fair trial."