The Punjab and Haryana High Court on May 28, 2019, in the case of Abhijeet Singh alias Ankur Likhari v. State of Punjab has directed all the investigating officers in the State of Punjab to record the statement under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, by audio, video, and electronic means forthwith.
The direction was issued by a Bench comprising of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Harinder Singh Sidhu while it was considering an appeal filed by a convict in a murder case.
In the case, the Bench noticed that three official witnesses, who were present at the spot of the crime turned hostile during the criminal trial.
Taking serious note of the pathetic state of witness protection in India, the Bench said:
"The witnesses are the integral part of the administration of justice. They have to be given utmost respect and honour. The witnesses are not adequately compensated for the amount they spent from their pocket. They have to travel long distances. There are no separate rooms for them to sit. They are entitled to reasonable realistic allowances for boarding and lodging at the expenses of State Government, if they have to stay back in the town. There is constant threat perception to the witnesses and their families. The witnesses have to depose at times against the gangsters, terrorists, smugglers, muscle men and persons involved in heinous crimes. The threat perception at times keeps the witness away from the courts. The threat perception persists during the course of investigation, during trial and also after the conclusion of trial. Unnecessary adjournments are given by the trial courts prolonging the trial and causing mental agony to the witnesses. The trial should be held on day-to-day basis. The witnesses are required to be shown utmost respect and their dignity has to be maintained during the course of investigation and at the time of trial. The entire system is required to be sensitized. Since the witnesses are under constant threat, there is an increasing tendency of turning them hostile."
Thus, the Bench issued the following directions to ensure that witnesses in criminal cases are protected:-
- All the Trial Courts through State of Punjab are directed to comply with mandate of Section 309 CrPC and to examine the eye witnesses expeditiously on day-to-day basis/continuous basis. Adjournments for next day shall be granted only after recording cogent, convincing and special reasons.
- The Reporting Officers are directed to enter adverse remarks in Annual Confidential Reports of the Judicial Officers who do not hold the trial on day-to-day basis.
- The State of Punjab is directed to make suitable amendments in the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to punish the persons inducing, threatening and pressurizing any witness to give false statement, within three months.
- The State of Punjab is also directed that all the witnesses should be paid reasonable amount as travelling allowance on the date of recording of their statement and if the statement spills over to the next date, the boarding and lodging of the witnesses should be provided by the State Government from State Exchequer.
- The State of Punjab is also directed that the material witnesses in heinous and sensitive matters are insured on short term or long term basis to enable them to fearlessly testify before the Court and also protecting their identity, changing their identity and relocating the witnesses.
- The State of Punjab should install security devices in the witness's home such as security door, CCTVs, alarms, fencing etc.
- The Police must have emergency contact numbers of witnesses, close protection for the witnesses, regular patrolling around the witness's house, escort to the Court and from the Court to their home with provision of Government vehicle or a State funded conveyance on the date of hearing.
- All the investigating officers in the State of Punjab are directed to record the statement under Section 161 Cr.P.C. by audio, video, and electronic means forthwith, as per Section 161 Cr.P.C.