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Karnataka HC to govt: Ensure witnesses protected in cases against MPs, MPAs, MLCs

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The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday 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.

The Supreme Court had in an earlier decision approved the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018, prepared by Union of India and had directed Government of India and all states and Union Territories, to enforce the same in letter and spirit.

A division bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty, which took up a suo motu PIL on expediting pending criminal cases against lawmakers, pointed out the Supreme Court has directed that keeping in mind vulnerability of witnesses, trial courts may consider granting protection to witnesses without making any application.

The bench said investigating officers should also assess the vulnerability/threat perception of witnesses and file applications on their behalf and bring the matter to the notice of the special court. Even the special court should apply its mind on the requirement of protection and issue the necessary direction to the State Government.

The authority for Bengaluru Urban District has to be constituted in two weeks. The Government must set up a witness protection fund for ensuring effective implementation of the scheme. Also, the proposal for establishing the second Special Court must be approved at the earliest.

The bench noted the Special Court is 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 a threat perception.

“We hope and trust that the final decision on the second Special Court as per request made by the high Court on the administrative side is taken by the state government.” the bench said.

Apart from 36 cases in which the state of Karnataka is the prosecuting agency, there are 136 cases in which agencies like the CBI, SFIO and Lokayukta are the prosecuting agencies, Senior Advocate Aditya Sondhi appearing as amicus curiae in the matter informed the Court. The Court has now posted the matter for further hearing on December 18.

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