Vital witness protection bill hangs fire
LAHORE: An important bill designed to protect witnesses particularly in cases of terrorism or heinous crime so as to ensure punishment to the culprits, or to encourage witnesses to hold their ground without any fear of elimination, is pending finality because of difference of opinion between the law and home departments.
Interestingly, the draft bill was taken for a final review after it was approved by the Punjab cabinet sub- committee on legislation in its last meeting.
Official sources said the law department after the approval by the cabinet committee changed the draft to the surprise of the authors. The authors said that the draft did not need any change after it was approved by the cabinet.
A letter was addressed to the law secretary emphasising the need to improve the draft, if at all required, only after discussion with the authors so as to prevent deletion of the clauses considered necessary to achieve the goals for which the legislation was intended to be introduced, sources said.
According to undecided draft obtained by Dawn, the aims and objectives of the proposed law are to provide for special measures to protect a witness or a person, connected with investigation, prosecution and trial of a criminal case, who is vulnerable to threat to his life and property.
There will be a Witness Protection Board under a senior secretary and comprising various secretaries, the IGP and the prosecutor general. There will also be units for witness protection, terrorism cases and serious offences which will be supervised and guided by the board.
The following may apply for risk assessment to the unit — persons associated with terrorism or other serious criminal cases in any manner, and those closely related to them.
The Counter Terrorism Department, the DPO concerned, the prosecutor, or a judge of the Anti-Terrorism Court may ask the unit to assess the risk or continued risk, to any person directly or indirectly associated with the terrorism case or serious criminal case by virtue of participation, oversight or relationship.
In arriving at its decisions, the unit shall have regard to the following measures amongst others — terrorist methodology, the risk profile of the person involved and measures that shall reduce or eliminate the risk at a minimum cost.
The unit shall on its own motion, on the directions of the government or on the application of the party to the proceedings may direct one or more of the following special measures to be taken with regard to the threatened persons — provision of close protection services, lodging in safe houses, relocation to safe distances permanently or temporarily, providing financial assistance or other necessities where a person is unable to undertake regular employment or his freedom of movement is severely impaired due to high risk, change of identity and anonymity for persons not involved in judicial proceedings.
The unit shall determine the time for which a non-court special measures order shall remain in force. The cost of non-court special measures shall be borne by the government.
Every agency and department of the Government shall cooperate with and provide such assistance to the unit as may be necessary for the implementation of a non-court special measures order.
Special measures shall be taken where in any terrorism or serious criminal proceedings a party to the proceedings makes an application to the court, or the court on its own motion raises the issue whether such a direction be given.
The special measures directions may provide for the witness, while giving testimony and being sworn in court or entering and leaving the Court, to be prevented by means of a screen or other arrangement from seeing and being seen by the accused or by the public or any person or class of persons other than the judge or judges, the prosecutor, legal representatives acting in the proceedings and any person appointed to assist the witness.
The threatened witness may be allowed to give evidence from a location outside the court by means of a live link. Where a direction provides for the witness to give evidence by live link, he may not give evidence in any other way without the permission of the court.
The court may allow for a recording of witness through video link. But if suitable facilities for receiving such evidence are not available at the courtroom, the court may sit for the purpose of the whole or any part of the those proceedings at a place where such facilities are available and which has been appointed by the high court after previous approval of the provincial government.
The special measures direction may provide for the exclusion of general public from the court during the recording of evidence of any person or category of persons. The persons who cannot be excluded from the court include the accused, the legal representatives acting in the proceedings and any other person appointed to assist the witness.
The special measures directions may provide for whole or part of a video recording of the evidence of the witness to be admitted in examination-in-chief of the witness. In considering whether the video recording can be allowed, the court shall consider whether any prejudice to the accused might result from it.
No person charged with a sexual offence shall, during trial proceedings, cross–examine in person, a witness including a juvenile who is a victim, in connection with that offence or with any other offence, of whatever nature, with which that person is charged in the proceedings.
The draft bill restricts reporting investigations involving a person under 18, saying that no matter relating to any person involved in the offence or his family shall while he is under 18 years of age be included in any publication if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify him as a person involved in the offence. The restriction may also apply on the name, address, the identity of the educational institution or place of work or picture of the victim.
It also suggests restrictions on reporting the identity of a witness or government official or any court matter relating to him or her, or reporting criminal investigations or proceedings in respect of a sexual offence. It provides for jail trial and punishment for violations.