Witness is an important constituent of the administration of justice. By giving evidence linking to the charge of the offence the witness performs a sacred duty of assisting the court to discover the truth. This is the reason why before giving evidence he/she either takes an oath in the name of God or makes a solemn affirmation that he/she will speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
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The witness has no risk in the decision of the criminal court as he is neither the accused nor the victim. The witness performs an important public duty of assisting the court in deciding on the guilt or otherwise of the accused in the case. He sacrifices his time and takes the trouble to travel all the way to the court to give evidence. The witness performs an important public duty of assisting the court in deciding on the guilt or otherwise of the accused in the case. He sacrifices his time and takes the trouble to travel all the way to the court to give evidence. The witness should therefore be treated with great respect and consideration as a guest of honour. Unfortunately, all these are seen not to be happening in the courts. There are two broad aspects to the need for witness protection. The first is to ensure that evidence of witnesses that has already been collected at the stage of investigation is not allowed to be destroyed by witnesses resiling from their statements while deposing on oath before a court. This phenomenon of witnesses turning `hostile’ on account of the failure to `protect’ their evidence is one aspect of the problem. This in turn would involve special procedures to be introduced into the criminal law to balance the need for anonymity of witnesses on the one hand and the rights of the accused, on the other, for an open public trial with a right to cross examination of the witnesses, after knowing all details about witnesses. The other aspect is the physical and mental vulnerability of the witness and to the taking care of his or her welfare in various respects which call for physical protection of the witness at all stages of the criminal justice process till the conclusion of the case. This can be done by the introduction of witness protection programmes. While the first aspect of protecting the evidence of witnesses from the danger of their turning ‘hostile’ has received limited attention at the hands of Parliament in some special statutes dealing with terrorism, there is an urgent need to have a comprehensive legislative scheme dealing with the second aspect of physical protection of the witness as well. Further, both aspects of anonymity and witness protection will have to be ensured in all criminal cases involving grave crimes not limited to terrorist crimes.
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