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Safeguarding prosecution witnesses

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07.JUL.06

The sense of frustration and even anger were all too evident on the face of prosecuting counsel Sandra Robertson when she was forced to abandon a murder case last week when the state’s key witness failed to appear. As a result Allan Small and Orde Patrick of Questelles walked “scotch” free on the charge of murder. The presiding judge Fredrick Bruce Lyle publicly complained that this was a growing trend in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that had to be stopped at all costs. We agree.{{more}}

Going back in time, when civics (the art of being a good citizen) was taught in primary school, and when many of today’s negative influences were absent, witnesses regarded it as their sacred civic duty to testify in any case when required so to do. To do otherwise not only portends the collapse of the criminal justice system but, by extension, our treasured civilised way of life. It is too obvious to need stating that our system of law in general, court processes and in particular our criminal justice system must be modified to meet the new realities.

The following suggestions to safeguard witnesses in criminal cases must be considered (as a matter of urgency) to arrest the growing trend:

(1) In every criminal case where the prosecution considers it necessary, witnesses ought to be kept in “safe- houses” (maybe even temporarily relocating them to another island, unknown to the general public)

and/or

(2) Right after arrest, charge and indictment, the evidence of key witnesses must be taken on video-tape with cross examination by defence counsel afforded. The video-tape evidence may be presented at a trial where a witness mysteriously disappears. This would avoid the long waiting process and psychological torment a witness usually endures before testifying in court and also preserves the integrity of the prosecution’s evidence.

and /or

(3) Measures to allow initial testimony made to the police to be valid in the event that witnesses were to disappear and /or

(4) Witness protection legislation ought to be introduced whereby long custodial sentences are imposed on those who seek to corrupt, intimidate or otherwise interfere with prosecution witnesses.

Crime hurts our economy, undermines the social fabric, destroys the spirit of community, infringes upon our God-given right to basic freedoms and vitiates our quality of life. From all reports the situation is urgent and cries out for ACTION NOW!

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