The Punjab Assembly on Wednesday passed the Punjab Witness Protection Bill 2018 which aims to protect witnesses in criminal proceedings, including sexual offences and terrorism-related crimes, and ensure effective and speedy disposal of trials.
According to the bill, the government would create a Witness Protection Board — to formulate policy and supervise its implementation — and two witness protection units relating to offences of terrorism and other serious offences, respectively.
The units would assess whether a victim, witness or any other person related to the case requires protection and would be able to ensure their lodging at a safe house, temporary or permanent relocation, change of identity, concealment of identity for criminal proceedings as well as provision of financial assistance if they are “unable to undertake regular employment or when his freedom of movement is severely curtailed”.
According to the bill, the examination of witnesses would become possible via video link or in-camera while their anonymity would also be maintained if need be.
It also stipulates rules for reporting of sexual offences and terrorism-related offences, and says that the identity of a “person connected with an offence of terrorism or a sexual offence” or their family members would not be reported in print, electronic or any other media if they are minors or if the court feels that it would affect the quality or voluntariness of evidence in the case.
Witnesses are considered important for convictions in criminal and even terrorism cases in Pakistan as scientific evidence is merely taken as an expert opinion. But they are often killed, browbeaten or bought because of lack of any protection for them from the state.