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Jessica aftermath: Centre to amend CrPc to protect witnesses

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Mar 4 (UNI) Stung by criticism from civil society following the acquittal of all the accused in the sensational Jessica Lal murder case, the government is seriouly thinking in terms of amending the Criminal Procedure Code(CrPC) to make safeguards to prevent witnesses from turning hostile.

A favourable sentiment in this regard has apparently emerged in the light of a letter written by National Advisory Council Chairperson Sonia Gandhi to Home Minister Shivraj Patil, giving a few suggestions to make the CrPC foolproof.

There has been public outcry ever since a sessions court acquitted all the nine accused in the case relating to the murder of model Jessica Lal in April 29, 1999. Many political parties have also come out publicly demanding reinvestigation into the case.

In the letter, Ms Gandhi called for steps to protect witnesses in sensitive criminal cases in order to prevent them from turning hostile under pressure or for a price.

The recently adopted criminal procedure amendment bill does not have any provision dealing with the hostile witness issue effectively.

However, the proposal on hostile witnesses had been included in the bill, introduced by the previous BJP-led Vajpayee government. But this was dropped following the recommendation of the Parliamentary standing committee.

Mr Patil confirmed receipt of Ms Gandhi's letter and said she made three major suggestions which, if included in the CrPC, would go a long way in bettering justice.

The suggestions of Ms Gandhi are that "witnesses should be given protection, their statements should be registered, recorded by the magistrate and the victim should be given the right to appeal if the victim is dissatisfied with the judgement given by the trial court." Mr Patil said the government would soon amend the criminal procedure code to include these suggestions.

The Opposition sought to put the government on the mat in the post-Jessica Lal judgement. "Whatever we have proposed in the legislation has been vidicated by the turn of events," a BJP leader said.

The original Bill, introduced at the time of the Vajpayee government, was prepared under the direction of eminent lawyer and senior party leader Arun Jaitley, who was then the Minister for Law.

It contained safeguards to ensure that an eyewitness does not retract his statement subsequently. The Bill stipulated that a witness' statement be recorded under oath before a magistrate and in case of retraction he would be liable to punishment by the court.


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