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Witness protection

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02.MAR.07

The issue of the protection of witnesses scheduled to testify or who have testified in criminal trials is now much more than an abstraction to the average Vincentian.

Last week Thursday, we heard in chilling detail an allegation that the murder of a crown witness was ordered from within the confines of Her Majesty’s prison and carried out just days before he was scheduled to testify in a murder case.{{more}}

That murder occurred last October, but it was not the only such incident to have occurred in recent times.

On July 6, 2004, 34-year-old Decima John, a virtual complainant in a rape case was due to appear in Court the next day to testify. She was gunned down as she made her way to the toilet just yards away from her home. This unsettling state of affairs begs the question if it was mere coincidence, or if her death was of a more sinister specicies and was in any way connected to the matter in which she was to give evidence.

It is clear that we can no longer take the safety of our witnesses for granted. Our once innocent society seems now to have degenerated to the organised crime syndicates of the Americas and the Italian mafia. Yet, these developed countries have at their disposal the resources, funding, infrastructure and huge population which can facilitate the relocation of a witness and the necessary protection put in place. There are safe-houses, and witness protetion programmes which not only provide for protection during the sustenence of the trial, but often, also provide for protection after. Granted, we have not yet scaled to such dizzy heights of crime that we are in need of such excess, but we must question if it is only a matter of time.

The very fabric of the justice system in the State of St.Vincent and the Grenadines is rent if we do not address this growing concern. How are we to inspire the public to exercise their civic duty to come forward and give evidence when their very lives may hang in the balance for want of protection?

The quandary in which we find ourselves due to our lack of resources to protect provides fertile soil for the seeds of organised crime to germinate and bear fruit.

As we look forward towards the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice where we can truly be the final arbiters of our own legal system as decided upon by those intimately aware of the nuances and peculiarities of Caribbean culture, we must be mindful that the ultimate goal should not only be to seek protection for the judiciary so that they may perform duties free from fear or favour, but also to provide our citizens the same freedoms and protection to give evidence.

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