JIS News

The country’s Witness Protection Programme is a solid and effective one, where those who opt to go into the programme are assured of a standard of living similar to or in some instances better than that which they enjoyed prior to entering the programme.
Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB), George Williams tells JIS News that the programme is a credible one that is strongly recommended for persons who are witnesses in major cases and have come forward to give evidence on behalf of the State.
“Whenever somebody says that he or she has witnessed a crime and volunteer to give that kind of evidence, the Police who come in contact with that witness first, will introduce the witness protection programme. We tell the witness about it and how the programme can help,” Mr. Williams explains.
“We take care of their well-being and in many cases, their families too. The police will do a risk assessment as to the dangers the witnesses face. We look at your surrounding, the area in which you live, what you tell us, who you tell us about. We will look at them, see who they are, see where they are and how they operate and having made the recommendation to you, if you accept, then we will do whatever it takes to ensure that you remain safe,” he points out.
The Assistant Commissioner says this means taking the witness away from his or her original environment, away from the parish and in some cases out of the country.
He says those who choose to enter the programme must be prepared for the long haul, as in most cases, this relocation or ‘new life’ can be very prolonged.
“In a few cases, we have had permanent changes to their location. It is possible that the person could be away for a very long time. It could be for as long as we believe it is unsafe for you to return to the area,” Mr. Williams says.
He notes that the programme has done very well over the approximately 10 years since it has been instituted. “We have not had a witness who is on the programme and who remains on the programme, injured, killed or hurt in any way,” he says.
The programme began officially in 1995 and is now administered by the Ministry of National Security. Mr. Williams points out that prior to its official launch, there was an unofficial programme in place that was solely administered by the Police with financial assistance from the Ministry of National Security. “It became so well used, that we figured that we did not have the kind of expertise to manage the programme. It takes a lot of social work and a lot of understanding people and their behaviour,” he explains.
The National Security Ministry took over the programme three years after it was managed by the Police, and implemented a system whereby social workers from the Ministry work with those in the programme.
In its current form, having identified witnesses and made recommendations to the Ministry, the Police then divests all contact with those individuals to the Ministry. To date, there have been some 1,000 witnesses in the programme.
It has proven a challenge, in some cases, to convince persons that getting into the programme is the safest option.
“Some people respond quite negatively. Some people just don’t want to leave their homes, their relatives, their friends to go on the programme. They believe that they can take care of themselves. Some accept readily, some we have no problem with. All we do is to recommend the programme to you. After we have walked you through the risk that you will take, it is you who decide whether you want to be in it,” Mr. Williams says.
“We have had some people who, right up front, tell you that they don’t want to be on the programme. Those who do not accept right away, we try to persuade them as best as we can. If you are on the programme, you listen to the instructions of the social worker who is responsible for you and your safety. We would have done our risk assessment and we would have spoken to the people who run the programme. All you have to do is do what they tell you to do and not to do,” he adds.
The Assistant Commissioner emphasizes that witnesses are not put in any position that is inferior to what they are accustomed to before entering the programme. “We ensure that if we remove you and your family, your children go to schools of the same calibre and quality that they did before, and sometimes even better, and that you are taken care of financially and otherwise. You are not allowed to live in any sub-standard way at all,” he points out.
He also says that talks are well advanced with other CARICOM partners for a regional programme.In October 2001, the Senate passed the Justice Protection Act to provide a legal framework for the Witness Protection Programme.
Under the law, the State is responsible for granting protection and/or assistance to witnesses, jurors, judicial and law enforcement personnel.
It also requires the Director of Public Prosecutions to prepare and submit applications for persons considered necessary to enter the programme, while the Commissioner of Police is mandated to carry out investigations of prospective participants in the programme.
The Commissioner is also required to provide physical protection for participants. The law also gives the Attorney General the responsibility to assess applicants’ suitability for participation in the programme.