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December 12, 2012
Star Features


 

Witness protection in Jamaica

"Witnesses may fear that if their identity is revealed to the defendant, his associates or the public generally, then they or their friends and family will be at risk of serious harm."


It is no secret that there are very high instances of witness intimidation and many witnesses fear going to court to testify against an accused person. There have been allegations of witnesses being murdered simply because they have damning information on an accused person. Serious crimes involving guns, murder and rape are heard "in camera". In camera means that the case is not open to the public and is heard in private.

This will limit the exposure of witnesses to the public and will often allow them to feel more comfortable. Another measure is being considered to protect vulnerable witnesses. Recently the Senate has tabled a bill that will allow for video recorded and live-link evidence to be admissible in court.

criminal cases

Because of the type of court system we have, witnesses are very important to the prosecution of criminal cases. According to the director of public prosecutions' website: "The principle of open justice can sometimes act as a bar to successful prosecutions, particularly in homicides, organised crime and gun crime. Witnesses may fear that if their identity is revealed to the defendant, his associates or the public generally, then they or their friends and family will be at risk of serious harm."

It is therefore imperative that witnesses be offered protection, so that they can live without fear and help in the pursuit of justice for victims of crimes. Criminal charges can be laid against those who intimidate or threaten witnesses. This sometimes acts as a bar to witness intimidation.

There are circumstances in which the witness has to be relocated because of threats, and this sometimes is a solution, even though it may be viewed as extreme. Witness protection is handled by the Ministry of National Security. The ministry runs a witness-protection programme designed to protect those witnesses who find themselves at risk of violence.

If you are a witness to a crime, it is important for you to let the police know what it is that you know. There are systems as highlighted above to protect you in the event that you feel any fear at all about being a witness. If you have given a witness statement in a matter, you have a duty to be present at court for the hearings and trial of the matter. If you do not attend, you may be summoned, or a warrant may be issued for you.

nmanleystar@gmail.com

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