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Being forced to acquit a alleged murderer due to lack of evidence, the Supreme Court has ruled that criminal justice system in the country would be at crossroads unless and until witnesses were given protection to enable them to depose freely against the mighty criminals, at least in heinous crimes.

A bench comprising Justices Arijit Pasayat and Mukundkam Sharma, while upholding the acquittal of Mangilal, which was recorded by the Bombay High Court noted, ‘The accused persons with money and muscle power can trample any witness who dared to depose against them. The victor will be injustice and it will be a slur on the criminal justice system if it so happens’.

The bench also noted ‘It needs no emphasis that in case of a gruesome murder, police protection should be given to witnesses.’ The accused, who had murdered a widow and her three children, was sentenced to death by the trial court.

Earlier also, similar apprehensions had been expressed by another bench comprising Justices B N Agrawal, G S Singhvi and Altamas Kabir saying that possibility of breakdown of criminal justice system in the country could not be ruled out due to the manner in which the witnesses were bought over or silenced by the accused who were rich and powerful.

Justice Pasayat, writing judgment for the bench, pronounced that unless the witnesses were provided protection, at least in heinous crimes, victims would not get justice.

The Centre had earlier expressed its inability to provide protection to witnesses in all cases as in Delhi alone, 20 lakh witnesses would require protection, which was not possible.

It was conveyed by Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium to a bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan in response to a bill seeking protection to witnesses.

Acquittal in criminal cases has gone up sharply due to witnesses turning hostile due to intimidation.

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