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The Bombay High Court on Monday gave three months to Maharashtra government to frame a fresh policy on providing protection to witnesses in the light of the observations made by the Law Commission of India.

The state government today asked for more time and the division bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka granted the plea but also directed that until the new policy is formulated the state government should provide protection to witnesses even when investigation is underway if the witness applies to the investigating officer in writing or orally.

Picking holes in existing policy, the court, which is hearing a PIL, observed the term witness should include not only those who are going to depose in the court but anybody who possesses information and documents related to a crime.

The new policy should have a provision for wider protection measures including protection to family members of witnesses, it said, noting that the scheme notified in Government Resolution of April 11, 2014, does not deal with witness identity protection. As in Delhi, protective measures should include witness identity protection, it said.

The HC noted that as per the recommendations of the Law Commission, witness protection measures must be taken up right from the stage of investigation to ensure that witnesses feel secure and come to the court to record evidence.

The court also suggested that there should be a provision of continuance of protection even after the trial or appeal proceedings are over; the state should also consider creating a separate dedicated fund for these protection measures.

“We find that while framing the policy under the GR dated April 11, 2014, the state government completely glossed over 198th Report of the Law Commission on the witness identity protection and witness protection programmes,” the bench said.

Courts have come across cases where due to threat perception or after considering the antecedents of the accused and the gravity of the offence, witnesses fail to co-operate with investigating officers, it said.

Therefore, there should be a provision to give protection to witnesses right from the probe stage, it said.

Asking the government to file a compliance report by December 18, the court posted the matter for further hearing on December 19.

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