Identity Of People In BVI Witness Protection To Be Further Concealed
Commissioner of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF), Michael Matthews disclosed that more efforts are being made to strengthen the Territory’s witness protection programme.
The Commissioner, while speaking at BVI Finance’s Lunch and Learn series that was held on September 23, mentioned that improvements to the legislation governing witness protection are being considered. These improvements are expected to enhance the programme by making it possible for witnesses to appear before the courts without revealing their identities.
When the witness protection legislation was passed in 2011, it was described as a demonstration of the Territory’s maturity. However, over time, it was noted that there was a need to further extend the provision.
Mention of such a plan to advance the witness protection offering in the Territory was noted in March this year when it was announced that the previous administration made the decision to instruct the Attorney General’s Chambers to begin drafting witness anonymity legislation.
This need for witness anonymity legislation was previously harped on by His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert in the Speech from the Throne that was delivered on September 13. At that time, the Governor promised that witness anonymity legislation was going to be introduced.
This legislation, His Excellency said, was “to ensure the protection of witnesses and the preservation of their rights by the provision for a court to make a witness anonymity order to protect the safety of the witness, prevent damage to property, and prevent real harm to the public interest.”
Even the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) previously called for enhancements to the witness protection offering. In fact, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kim Hollis Q.C. at the special sitting of the Supreme Court to mark the opening of the 2016 – 2017 Law Year of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, announced that such changes were necessary.
The Director of Public Prosecutions mentioned that there is already provision to allow witnesses to give their evidence by video link, which is the preferred method of dealing with witnesses in sexual offences. However, she noted that she intended to extend special measures applications to include other serious offences.
The act allows for a witness whose evidence is likely to be diminished by reason of fear or distress to be screened from the accused and the public while giving evidence. There have been few applications and indeed the power has not been used since 2011. In the future, more applications will be made by the prosecution to screen a vulnerable or intimidated witness from the court.
“Additionally, in order to supplement the availability of special measures within our courts, I have proposed that specific legislation be introduced in relation to witness anonymity in Criminal Proceedings which should be introduced as a new statutory special measure,” the DPP said.
In making the call for a more enhanced witness protection programme, Hollis said, “In order to combat the continual growth of serious crime I have proposed, and hope that it will be swiftly enacted, some important legislative changes in order to give the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts effective tools in relation to trials where witnesses are either vulnerable or in need of special protection.”
She further stated, “The Act would enable anonymity orders to be made in order to protect the identity and thus the safety of any witness who may otherwise be in fear or distressed about giving evidence.”