Legal Article

What is the precarious environment for witnesses in India and abroad

Shivendra Pratap Singh


High Court Lucknow


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Published on: 12 Aug, 2023

Witness protection and the challenges witnesses face in providing testimonies are subjects of grave concern both in India and in other countries. The precarious environments that witnesses confront can be attributed to a multitude of reasons. Here is a comprehensive breakdown:

In India:

  1. Intimidation and Threats: Many witnesses, especially in cases involving powerful individuals or groups, face direct threats, harassment, and intimidation, both covertly and overtly.
  2. Cultural and Societal Pressure: Social stigma can sometimes deter witnesses from testifying, especially in cases related to sexual offenses or so-called “honor” crimes. The fear of ostracization from the community can be significant.
  3. Corruption: Bribery and corruption within the law enforcement and judicial system can leave witnesses vulnerable, as the very entities meant to protect them might be compromised.
  4. Prolonged Judicial Processes: India’s judiciary is notoriously slow in processing cases. This prolonged exposure makes witnesses more susceptible to coercion and intimidation over time.
  5. Lack of Robust Witness Protection: While there are some witness protection measures in place, they are not always uniformly applied or adequately robust to ensure the safety of witnesses.


  1. Organized Crime: In countries with a strong presence of mafias, cartels, or gangs, witnesses face substantial risks. Regions dominated by drug cartels, like parts of Mexico, witness gruesome retaliations against those who testify.
  2. Political Repression: In authoritarian states or regions with political unrest, speaking against the government or powerful political entities can lead to persecution. For instance, in some countries, journalists, activists, and others who bear witness to state-sanctioned atrocities can be jailed, tortured, or killed.
  3. Terrorism and Extremism: In areas with significant extremist activities, individuals testifying against terrorists face not only threats to their own lives but also risks to their communities or religious groups.
  4. Cultural Factors: Much like in India, witnesses in other countries might also face cultural or societal pressures, especially in cases of sexual offenses or when testifying against community or tribal leaders.
  5. Inefficient Judicial Systems: In countries with overwhelmed or inefficient judicial systems, witnesses might be exposed to threats for longer periods, given the extended durations of trials.
  6. Inadequate Protection Mechanisms: While many countries do have witness protection programs, their effectiveness can vary. In some cases, protection might not be comprehensive, or witnesses might not be fully informed about the protections available to them.


The environment for witnesses, whether in India or abroad, is fraught with challenges. It’s vital for judicial systems worldwide to recognize these challenges and institute robust measures to ensure the safety and well-being of those brave enough to come forward. Their testimonies are crucial in upholding justice, and their protection is paramount in ensuring a just and fair society.