Bill seeks witness protection

A bill that would create a witness protection programme for the Cayman Islands’ criminal justice system could be voted on by lawmakers later this year.

The Justice Protection Bill, 2008, seeks to develop three separate entities, one led by the attorney general’s office and two directed by the police commissioner, which would determine what witnesses would be protected in return for their cooperation at trial.

The bill sets out circumstances under which protected witnesses could be placed in safe houses, guarded by law enforcement personnel, and even makes provision for the creation of separate identities for individuals under the protection of the state.

Police and Crown prosecutors would have to consider each case to determine whether the individual qualifies for the protection programme. Participants must be considered a vital and reliable witness in the criminal case they’re testifying in, and cannot be shown to be a risk to the community where they would reside.

In certain cases, government could be required to provide housing, relocation costs and reasonable living expenses for prospective witnesses and their family members, even finding employment and health care coverage.

Witnesses in the programme would have to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Cayman Islands Justice Protection Administrative Centre, one of the entities created by the bill, in order to participate. The proposal also requires them to provide extensive personal background data including criminal history, property, and sources of income.

Not all criminal cases would qualify for witness protection measures, according to the bill. Those that may require protective measures for witnesses include cases involving criminal damage, drugs, firearms, hijacking, money laundering, domestic violence, piracy, sex offences, and terrorism.

A schedule in the bill also contains a draft agreement for the five British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean and Bermuda that sets out a formal process for how justice protection issues are to be handled among the territories.

The agreement seeks to establish a criminal justice board of management among the territories, to be chaired by one of the OT governors, and have representatives from all the elected governments of the territories. The board would be used to coordinate law enforcement issues related to witness protection which may arise in the location and transfer of witnesses.

Cayman Islands Attorney General Sam Bulgin has said witness protection continues to be a major concern among political leaders in the Caribbean.

He told the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Cayman last year that Caribbean countries and territories weren’t moving swiftly enough on the issue.

‘It is common knowledge among regional members that we have…times where witnesses have been shot, killed or…intimidated by accused persons or persons connected to them,’ he said.

Cayman does not have a formal witness protection programme in place, but the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has provided security in the past for witnesses on an as-needed basis.

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