The Draft Bill for Guyana’s witness protection programme is currently being fine-tuned at the Attorney General’s Chambers. The Draft Bill which was first brought to the National Assembly by the new government in 2015 provides for the establishment of three agencies to deal with the administrative, investigative and protective aspects.
Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan recently told media operatives, “That Bill is currently at the Attorney General’s Chambers to be fine-tuned after which Cabinet will look at it…, and “…then the recommendations that we will make in relation to that Bill will go back to the draftsperson, Cecil Durjohn (Chief Parliamentary Counsel) and then be brought to the National Assembly,” Minister Ramjattan said.
Further, the Bill which will be the subject of public consultation from 9:00hours on Monday, October 10, 2016 at the Pegasus Hotel, provides for the establishment of three agencies through which witnesses will be processed and protected.
According to Part II of the Draft Bill, the Administrative Centre will be responsible for the development and management of the Witness Protection Programme. It also bears responsibility for deciding the people to get protection or assistance under the programme and signing a memorandum of understanding between the “client” for protection and the agency, among other things.
Additionally, the administrative arm of the agency is tasked with the provision of documents for the client to establish a new identity whenever necessary, providing financial assistance to the client for meeting costs associated with relocation and ensuring the client gets assistance to ensure self-sustenance among others.
Meanwhile, the agency’s investigative arm will be tasked with, among other things, investigating prospective clients of the programme and submitting their findings to the administrative agency. The investigative agency’s assessment must include a valuation of the threat and risk to which the client may be exposed.
The protective arm of the agency of the Witness Protection Programme will be responsible for submitting reports on the suitability of clients, interviewing the client to determine suitability for the programme, conducting a threat and risk assessment, relocating the client for protection and carrying out periodic reviews of the threats and risks among other things.
When passed, the Draft Bill will aid in the prosecution of high profile criminal cases for which witnesses are usually too scared to come forward.
“The need for witness protection came long before forensic audits, not because of the white collar crime that the forensic audits might have revealed, but long before that people (giving evidence) in narcotic offences were saying they wanted some protection because they feel narcotics persons (persons connected to the drugs trade) can kill them,” Minister Ramjattan explained.
Witness protection protects witnesses involved in high profile criminal matters before the courts, from harm. While a witness may only require protection until the conclusion of a trial, some witnesses are provided with a new identity and may live the rest of their lives under protection.
“What the witness plan might do, will need a lot of finances because some of the witnesses might have to be put up in Trinidad and far off places because they might not be safe in Guyana. That will be very expensive an exercise,” the Public Security Minister pointed out.
When fully implemented, Guyana would join several other Caribbean nations in enacting such programmes. Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados have active witness protection programmes in which witnesses are moved out of the country before and after trial to protect them. (GINA)