The Supreme Court ruled that the accused is entitled to obtain copies of statements of those who are declared ‘protected witnesses’ under CrPC.
A First Information Report, was registered under Sections 18, 19, 20, 38 & 39 of the UAPA read with Sections 7/25 of the Arms Act, 1959 and Sections 3/4 of the Explosive Substance Act, 1908 against one Syed Naveed Mushtaq and others at P.S. Qazigund. The National Investigation Agency took up the investigation into this FIR under Section 6(4) read with Section 8 of the NIA Act and the FIR was re-registered as RC/01/2020/NIA/JMU on 17.01.2020. The appellant herein was arrested in the said FIR on 25.11.2020 and the NIA filed the second supplementary chargesheet in the FIR before the Court of 3rd Additional Sessions Judge, Jammu (Special Judge NIA Act) on 22.03.2021 arraying the appellant as accused No.11 in the said supplementary chargesheet.
The appellant contended that he has a statutory right to get a copy of the witnesses’ statements in order to confront the witness during the course of trial in accordance with Sections 161 and 207 of the Cr.P.C. and relied upon the judgment of this Court in Mohd. Hussain v. State (GNCTD) to emphasise that he has a right under the said provisions to receive copies of witnesses’ statements in order to mount an effective defence.
The division bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M.M. Sundresh noted that on a conspectus of the legal position and the limited contours of the facts required for determination of the issue, the provisions of Section 173(6) of the Cr.P.C. read with Section 44 of the UAPA and Section 17 of the NIA Act stand on a different plane with different legal implications as compared to Section 207 of the Cr.P.C.
The court stated that there was no notice to the accused. The objective of Section 44, UAPA, Section 17, NIA Act, and Section 173(6) is to safeguard witnesses. They are in the nature of statutory witness protection. On the court being satisfied that the disclosure of the address and name of the witness could endanger the family and the witness, such an order can be passed. They are also in the context of special provisions made for offences under special statutes. These considerations weighed with the trial court while passing the order, and even the appellant has no quibble with the same.
The court noted that the order of the trial court has not only permitted redaction of the address and particulars of the witnesses which could disclose their identities but has further observed as noted aforesaid that even other relevant paras in the statement which would disclose their occupation and identity could be redacted.
The court held that the order of the trial court is both fair and reasonable for the prosecution and defence while protecting the witnesses and not depriving the defence of a fair trial with the disclosure of the redacted portion of the testimony under Section 207 of the Cr.P.C.
Case title: Waheed-UR-Rehman Parra v/s Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir
Citation: CRIMINAL APPEAL No.237 OF 2022