Witnesses’ rights to be protected – AG

…Witness Protection Bill for next
parliamentary sitting

Many of Guyana’s leading crimes are recorded as unsolved, or remain a mystery, either because witnesses are not brave enough to testify or they are afraid to be held accountable for someone’s sentencing. However, according to Attorney General Basil Williams, this will soon come to an end.

A section of the gathering at the anti-corruption sensitisation seminar

Williams made this pronouncement at the second consultation in a series of anti-corruption sensitisation seminars held throughout Guyana. These seminars are hosted by the Legal Affairs Ministry with the intention of sensitising and informing a wide cross-section of stakeholders about the Government’s anti-corruption policy.
According to Williams, one of the many challenges faced in the justice system is obtaining the information necessary to convict a criminal, since often times key witnesses and other persons are intimidated by threats and/or victimisation. This, he noted, would be addressed with the Witness Protection Bill, expected to be tabled in the National Assembly in the resumption after recess.
Speaking to employees in the public and private sectors in the auditorium of the Anna Regina Multilateral Secondary School in Region Two, Minister Williams said witnesses can now feel safe when attending court.
The bill, he added, will serve as another instrument aimed at minimising corruption. Rated by Transparency International (TI), Guyana is listed as the second most corrupt country in the southern hemisphere.
Meanwhile, Principal Parliamentary Counsel, Joann Bond, pointed out that the witness protection program is designed to protect persons involved in both civil and criminal matters.
“Persons may request protection in cases of murder, manslaughter, money laundering, sexual offences, anti-terrorism, and domestic violence. Once the bill becomes a law, the program will be administered, and an administrative centre, an investigative agency, and a protective agency (will be established),” Bond explained.
The administrative centre, she continued, would then collaborate with the Head of State, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), and the Commissioner of Police.
Furthermore, in an effort to promote transparency, Bond noted that criteria would be placed as a gatekeeping function for application, so as to prevent abuse of the programme.
“Persons may want to use the programme as an escape, as a way out, to finding a new life with a new identity. As such, the administrative centre will carefully review the importance of evidence and statements. If your evidence is not enough to lead to a conviction, there may be no need for you applying for the program,” the Principal Parliamentary Counsel posited.
Bond went on to note that disclosing a witness’s new identity would result in a fine of one million dollars, or to imprisonment for 10 years.
The seminar provided a comprehensive overview on the Witness Protection Bill.
Attending the seminar also was Region Two Chairman Devanand Ramdatt; Regional Executive Officer Rupert Hopkinson, and Deputy Regional Chairperson Nandranie Coonjah, along with RDC councillors.