Prashant Pandey

May provide for recording of statements in camera

NEW DELHI: Witnesses turning hostile either due to threat or allurement and thereby helping the accused get away literally with murder -- like the acquittals in the Jessica Lal murder case on Tuesday -- may become a thing of the past as the Police Act Drafting Committee, which is preparing a draft for the new Police Act, will be taking up the issues of protection of witnesses and also the victims in right earnest.

According to reliable sources, these issues have been discussed at various points by the Committee and in all likelihood some provisions in this connection would be introduced in the final draft. On the other hand, the draft is also likely to have provisions for recording the statements of the witnesses in camera so that they have less chance of retracting from the statement. "But, in the absence of any effective witness protection mechanism, it would not mean much," said an officer.

Witnesses should also be held responsible for perjury if they retract from their statements wilfully, said experts. The Committee, sources added, would further emphasise on the use of forensic evidence in investigations to help the police in keeping their case alive even if the witnesses retract from their statements. The police would have to be provided with adequate equipment, facilities and training for forensic analysis, said the officer.

However, it will be some time before these provisions are put in black and white and sent to Parliament and State legislatures. The Committee, constituted in September last year and given six months to come up with the draft of the new Act replacing the 1861 Police Act, is likely to take a couple of months more to finalise the draft.

Meanwhile, there have been a few encouraging signs for the Committee. On February 14, the Committee met with State Chief Secretaries and the Director Generals of Police from all over the country and a consensus was arrived at on the issue of separating investigations from law and order duties which is among the more significant changes suggested by various other committees and commissions in the past.

To invite more suggestions from the people about the kind of police they would like to have, the Committee also plans to bring out advertisements in this regard. Already, the Committee has provided for a suggestion box on its website.

Anybody interested in sending suggestions can access the box on the Home Ministry's website -- www.mha.nic.in -- and click on "Police Act Drafting Committee" icon to reach the web page having the suggestion box and other related information.

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