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Despite the Protection of Pakistan Act 2014 in place, the passing of a resolution by the Sindh Assembly and a motion submitted by the Jamaat-i-Islaami (JI) in the National Assembly earlier this year in March for the protection of witnesses, the only witness in the murder case of Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead in Karachi.

Take a look: Key witness in Sabeen Mahmud murder case shot dead in Karachi

It goes without saying that the Witness Protection Bill needs to be effective and implemented strictly, especially in Karachi. The bureaucracy and administrative machinery of the government should increase the implementation of this law on a larger scale.

At present

While Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) are active in eliminating terrorism and target killings, those involved in heinous crimes manage to flee because of a lack of implementation of the said bill as no one willingly testifies against the accused. Those who do are attacked — just like the witness in Sabeen Mahmud's murder.

Similarly, slain journalist Wali Babar's attackers have still not been brought to justice because all the witnesses in the case were eliminated one by one. There is a dire need in Pakistan to ensure implementation of witness protection laws.

Recent amendments

A resolution passed in the National Assembly demands for witnesses to have protection under LEAs. However, with a majority of LEAs having political backing and links to militant groups, such a bill stands nullified altogether.

In view of the 21st amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 (which approved the establishment of military courts to try terror suspects) witness protection should be linked and separate LEAs should be constituted for the same.

Comparison with other countries

In the United States, the Federal Witness Protection Program is aimed at protecting threatened witnesses before, during and after a trial. It is administered by the United States Department of Justice and operated by the United States Marshals Service.

Recent statistics state that as of 2013, 8,500 witnesses and 9,900 family members have been protected by the US Marshals Service since 1971.

In the United Kingdom, the openness of judicial proceedings is a fundamental principle enshrined in Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (The right to Fair Trial).

This underpins the requirement for a prosecution witness to be identifiable not only to the defendant, but also to the open court. It supports the ability of the defendant to present his case and to test the prosecution case by cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.

In some cases, it may also encourage other witnesses to come forward. Furthermore, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (YJCEA) proposes a range of measures that are available to witnesses in criminal proceedings who are deemed to be ‘intimidated’.

The special measures which may be relevant for intimidated witnesses are:

  • screening the witness from the accused
  • evidence by live link; evidence given in private
  • holding a Crown Court hearing in camera
  • concealing the names of witnesses

Full anonymity and witness protection programmes and laws are being fully implemented, thus making it easy for a witness to testify against culprits without any fear.

Most countries that have passed a witness protection bill have separate LEAs like Hong Kong.

The units are notably Witness Protection Unit (WPU) of the Hong Kong Police Force, Witness Protection and Firearms Section (R4) of Independent Commission Against Corruption and similar sections of the Witness Protection Unit of the Hong Kong Customs. The members of these units undergo training in tactics of protection, firearms, self-defence, physical and tactical training and are mostly trained in the use of Glock 19 compact handgun as sidearm.

The Witness Security Programme in the Republic of Ireland is administered by the Attorney General of Ireland, and is operated by the elite Special Detective Unit (SDU) of the Garda Síochána — the national police force.

The New Zealand Police provides protection for witnesses against members of criminal gangs and serious criminals who feel threatened or intimidated. They run a Witness Protection Programme that monitors the welfare of witnesses and, if necessary, helps create a new identity.

In Ukraine, depending on the nature of the case and the location of the trial, the safety of witnesses is the responsibility of different agencies, such as the Special Judicial Police unit Gryphon (part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs), the Security Service of Ukraine and, formerly, the special police unit Berkut.

Conclusion

For effective judicial proceedings in criminal cases, it is important that a witness testifies and gives a statement free from any sort of coercion. If the witness is absent during legal proceedings, the perpetrators of a crime may not be brought to justice.

It is imperative that witnesses are given protection. Proper bills and laws should be passed so that the corrupt, and those involved in heinous crimes are brought to justice.

This article was originally published on CourtingTheLaw.com and has been reproduced with permission.