On Tuesday, the Karnataka High Court directed the State government to instruct all investigating officers in criminal cases against MPs, MLAs, and MLCs to take measures to ensure the protection of witnesses as per the witness protection scheme.
A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice S. Vishwajith Shetty heard a PIL initiated suo moto to monitor the progress of 162 criminal cases pending before the special court set up exclusively to try criminal cases against MPs, MLAs, and MLCs.
Subsequently, the bench directed the state government to constitute a competent authority under the witness protection scheme, in terms of a Supreme Court order, particularly for witnesses appearing in the special court for elected representatives. It also said that the investigating officers should inform witnesses about the availability of the witness protection scheme and tell them that protection can be sought by making an application in the prescribed form to the member-secretary of the competent authority set up under the scheme.
“In many cases pending before the special court, prominent political personalities will be the accused. There is every possibility some of the prosecution witnesses may become vulnerable. So, it’s all the more necessary to effectively implement the witness protection scheme,” the bench noted.
Further while citing Bengaluru, the bench asserted that the special court is a part of the city civil court and therefore, the principal city civil and sessions judge will be chairman of the competent authority. Every investigating officer should be informed that it’s his/her duty to assess whether a prosecution witness can become vulnerable due to various aspects and if there’s threat perception.
Besides direction to set up the Witness Protection Fund, the bench also urged the State to invite the attention of all investigating officers (IOs) to the provisions of the 2018 scheme and direct them to take all possible steps for its implementation.
It is the responsibility of the IO to assess whether a prosecution witness can become vulnerable to threats or not, the court opined. Each IO should apply mind to each case and wherever necessary, he/she shall file a witness protection scheme application for the respective witness, it added.
The matter has been scheduled for the next hearing on December 18.