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Witness Protection In Criminal Law

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Witness protection is an important aspect of criminal law and a lot of time, effort and resources has gone into creating the Witness Protection program to ensure the continued integrity and confidentiality of criminal proceedings. Criminal cases are contingent on reliable evidence and oral witness evidence is one of the most important forms.

Criminal law proceedings are determined by the integrity, reliability and credibility of key evidence. If that evidence is in anyway tainted or compromised, it could be the difference between a guilty and not guilty verdict. This may see an offender released without punishment and in certain situations, it may pose a severe risk to individual or community safety.

Complementary Witness Protection Law is complicated legislation and it should be considered and interpreted carefully. Jameson Law have a team of expert criminal lawyers to assist with any and all criminal law matters you may have.

What Is A Witness?

A witness is an individual who can provide lament or expert evidence about a particular fact in a proceeding. A lament witness refers to a non-expert individual who has seen, heard, or can provide specific information about alleged criminal conduct. This could be someone known or not known to the defendant.

An expert witness refers to a witness who can provide specific information about a fact in issue. This includes medical professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, or any other pertinent professional in a relevant field.

Protecting the integrity of the evidence is key for both the prosecution and defence however there are instances where the defendant will not want certain evidence to be given if it is adverse to them.

Why Do Witnesses Need Protection?

Witness protection is governed by the Witness Protection Act 1994. The act sets out the guidelines regarding protected witnesses and what processes are in place to protect witnesses from harm. There is also specified criteria to be followed.

The Witness Protection Program is a specially designed program that protects individuals from the repercussions of giving evidence. The program is not something that can be forced upon a witness and participant permission must be provided. Witnesses can refuse protection however they will be leaving themselves open to potential danger. The criminal justice system can only do so much.

Requirements of the program are that the participants must leave their friends, family and the person’s previous spouse unless that spouse is willing to also relocate. Participant requests are taken into account in regards to location however the police must be able to keep his or her new identity confidential. Commonwealth identity documents are only able to be accessed by approved authorities and any document relevant to a witness’s identity or location is protected.

There are only limited persons authorised to know the location and identity of the witness to ensure security. All such evidence, including location, criminal record, his or her relationship, marriage or family and psychological or psychiatric examination, etc is to remain confidential. This includes all information relating to a former participant or other witnesses relevant to his or her case.

The International Criminal Court (ICC)

Matters which come before the ICC are of a particularly serious nature and are subject to international relevant law. The conduct of accused persons within this court is of the highest nature and law enforcement agencies normally work for years if not decades to bring justice.

Witness protection programs on an international scale are utilized during these types of proceedings. The program will alter his or her former identity and provide protection to the relevant participant for as long as they may require protection. The level of protection which can be provided in an international situation as the complementary witness protection laws are on a larger scale. There is also a wider array of countries to assist in providing protection.

What Happens If A Witness Breaches Conditions?

If a witness breaches the conditions of the witness protection programme then under the witness protection act they can be removed from the program and/or further relocated. Each witness signs an agreement when granted access to the witness protection programme and if a participant deliberately breaches the conditions then such an agreement can end.

A breach may include contact with family and friends who are not approved. The participant’s conduct is an important factor because they must do what’s necessary to ensure their own safety. Such a person subject to witness protection must be prepared for that protection to exist until they are cleared to return to their normal life.

Is There A Time Period For Witness Protection?

Witness protection programs are designed to run for as long as the threat exists against an individual. This may be for months, years or it could be a lifelong situation.

Protection programs can be tailor-built to the individual they are designed to serve and this will include necessary financial assistance for as long as required. This may be until the end of any outstanding legal obligations or until such time as the danger has passed (i.e. organised crime being dismantled).


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