Witnesses scared to Testify Says Minister of Justice

“This country is very well aware of the challenges faced by the prosecution in securing convictions for offences like murder. These challenges are witness tampering, witness intimidation, and unfortunately in some cases, witness elimination. It is therefore not surprising that most people who see crimes being committed, are afraid of giving evidence at trial because of the real likelihood of victimization by defendants, or by persons instructed by, or acting at the behest of defendants,” he said.

The Minister of Justice noted that to protect themselves from victimization, some witnesses change the testimony they give at trial from the evidence they give to the police in their statements.

“These witnesses I prefer to call them vulnerable witnesses.  That sad state of affair should not be allowed to continue. Therefore, the law is being reformed  so as to allow the Director of Public Prosecutions, in cases where a vulnerable witness has a real apprehension of suffering bodily injury at the hands of a defendant, or where a vulnerable witness has been threatened by a defendant or on behalf of a defendant, to make application, ex parte, and in camera, to a supreme court judge, for an order allowing the statement of a vulnerable witness to be used at trial, in lieu of the vulnerable witness appearing and testifying at the trial,” said Attorney General Nisbett.

Mr. Nisbett went on by saying, “If a prosecution witness is kept away by the actions of the defendant, then it will be intolerable for him or her to rely on his or her human rights to prevent ‘hearsay’ evidence being admitted. The net effect of this reform will be to tilt the scale of justice in favour of balance.”

The Attorney General said right now the scale is heavily in favour with defendants because of our anachronistic legislation.

“This state of affairs is out-dated and the Bill seeks to address the situation by imposing on the defence of a statutory obligation to disclose (a) the defence and (b) the defence witness statements and evidence in circumstances similar to the obligation currently placed only on the prosecution. We are trying to design a system that would ensure the certainty of conviction, and within a reasonably quick time. I believe that you are going to support the Government in its efforts to further reform the law relating to evidence. We have to act in order to prevent the collapse of the criminal justice system, and to take yet another step in creating a safer environment for all the citizens and residents of this country,” said Mr. Nisbett.

He told a sitting of the High Court in Charlestown to commence the new law term that the Evidence Bill, 2010, which was introduced in the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly, seeks to re-examine the law relating to the evidence of vulnerable witnesses.

Attorney General Patrice Nisbett said the draft legislation introduced in the National Assembly last year, seeks to reform the law relating to evidence in order to strengthen the delivery of criminal justice.

 

 

 

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