Double Victimization Of Witnesses

Shirsh Raj[1]

Black’s Law Dictionary gives the following definition of witness: “In the primary sense of the word, a witness is a person who has knowledge of an event. As the most direct mode of acquiring knowledge of an event is by seeing it, “witness” has acquired the sense of a person who is present at and observes a transaction.”[2]In Swaran Singh v. State of Punjab[3], Wadhwa J. said, “A criminal case is built on the edifice of evidence, evidence that is admissible in law. For that, witnesses are required whether it is direct evidence or circumstantial evidence.”  On the other hand, Secondary victimization refers to the re-victimization of crime victims during their interactions with criminal justice professionals, medical personnel, psychological staff, and victim advocates. In different ways, even that appear to be helping, they can unintentionally re-victimize the victim or witness.[4]Victim is defined a person who has suffered any loss or injury caused due to the act or omission for which the accused person has been charged and the expression “victim” includes his or her guardian or legal heir. [5]

In the Indian Criminal Legal System, witness not considered as part of the crime and it is just a person who is going to provide evidence in the criminal matters to serve justice to the crime victim. However, the witnesses also suffer from traumas which occurred to them when they say the crime and next when they have to testify the evidence in the criminal proceedings. Primary victimization of the witness takes place when a witness witnessed the crime, which leads to Trauma. Individual goes through trauma, both emotional and physical like fear, shock and denial, sadness, confusion, anger and acting out, insomnia, agitation, nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder respectively.[6] All of which can adversely affect their quality of life. On the other hand, secondary victimization of the witness takes place when a witness tries to serve justice by providing evidence during the court procedure or police investigation. There are various reasons for secondary victimization of the witnesses that makes them vulnerable are:                                       

  1. Testifying more than once.
  2. Prolonged/protracted court proceedings.
  3. Fear of public exposure.
  4. Face-to-face contact with the accused.
  5. Inappropriate cross-examination.
  6. Usage of money and power by the accused.
  7. Other factors like fear of police or legal system, political fear, etc.
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Best Bakery Case (Tulsi bakery Case)[7] is one of the landmark instances on the subject of injustice. In this case, the powerful and rich accused forced the witness to turn hostile. The witness failed to identify the accused so the prosecution failed to prove that charges. There are ample of cases like BMW Hit and Run Case[8] or Jessica Lal Murder Case[9] or Prof. Sabharwal Case[10] in which witnesses turn hostile or do not give evidence because of suffering bear by them from the side of accused or from the side of court or police. These are the reasons or circumstances of double victimization of the witness and making them victim just because they want to render justice to the crime victim. What do we think that the circumstances, which the witnesses are facing during the court procedure or in personal life, which is victimizing them twice in a bad comportment that need no attention from the criminal justice system? It is the duty of the court or the government to provide allowances and protection to the witnesses, isn’t it?

Witnesses need to protect from the suffering from victimized twice because of various reasons as there is no particular legislation which deals with the protection of the witnesses or safeguards them from not victimizing them twice. Protection of witness leads to better serving of justice to the crime victim and witness will provide evidence or testify him or herself freely and comfortably. There are efforts to implement witness protection in India but none of them implemented. In India, protection of witnesses means protection from discomfort and inconvenience so they gave provisions of facilities to the witnesses. On parallel to the protection of witness, guidelines also provide the obligation to the police for the protection of the witness from getting physical harm by providing security to the witness.

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Further, there are Reports of Law Commission, which made efforts to implement witness protection by providing suggestion in 14th, 154th, 172nd, 178th and 198th Law Commission Reports by stating that witness should be provided better facilities, comfort and compensation. Further, there is identity protection for the witnesses and witness protection program was planned to implement. 

To conclude, the definition of the victim is inadequate and narrow. It should include witnesses which are remotely affected by the crime. There is a need of amendment in the definition of the victim under Section 2(wa) of Criminal Code of Procedure by including witness as a victim in certain circumstances, which has to be mentioned specifically. On the other hand, there is also a need to protect the witness from various traumas and suffering which they are getting from being a witness of the crime and more over while going through the criminal procedure because of various reasons.. Witness is the most important part in the criminal matters to provide evidence for the crime victim. However, they are not safe as a witness and there is the need of the legislation that should particularly deals with the protection of the witness. Some of the foreign countries like USA, UK, New Zealand, Canada, Italy, etc. already have the legislation to protect the witness from suffering or victimized twice. There is a need in India to enact such legislation to protect the witness in all frames in criminal matters.


[1] Student.

[2] Black’s law dictionary (December 5, 2019), http://thelawdictionary.org/witness-n/#ixzz2cm686Dz8.

[3] Swaran Singh v. State of Punjab, A.I.R. 2000 S.C. 2017.

[4]  Dr. Wendie Johnna Albert, The Secondary Victimization of Crime Victims: The Impact of Seeking Justice in the Criminal Justice System, Justice clearing house (December 5, 2019), https://justiceclearinghouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Secondary-Victimization.pdf.

[5] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Section 2(wa).

[6] Supra note 4.

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[7] Zahira Habibulla H Sheikh And Anr v. State Of Gujarat And Ors, (2004) 4 S.C.C. 158..

[8] State v. Sanjeev Nanda, (2012) 8 S.C.C. 450.

[9] Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2010) 6 S.C.C. 1.

[10] Himanshu Singh Sabharwal v. State of M.P. and Ors, A.I.R. 2008 S.C. 1943.