Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 13th 2013 Contents A13
October 13, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
To improve the Witness Protec-
tion Programme, general secretary
of the T&T Police Service Social
Welfare Association Sgt Michael
Seales is urging the Justice Ministry
to put proper structures in place to
protect state witnesses.
Seales felt not enough was being
done with the programme.
He said, "More often than not,
you have persons (witnesses) getting
frustrated with the programme and
they end up leaving."
Upon leaving, Seales said, their
lives are put at risk and most times
they end up dead.
Seales said that was one matter
the association has been looking at.
When someone enters the pro-
gramme, he pointed out, they have
to conform to rules and guidelines
they are not accustomed to.
"What happens is that person,
having entered the programme, now
has to curtail their whole living
arrangement and their standard of
living is affected considerably."
Individuals who are accustomed
to living a free life with their families
in a home or apartment, sometimes
end up staying at a station with
police who protect them. Most times,
Seales said, the police station is often
not the best situation, given that the
witness would have needs "that have
to be met from a psychological and
Seales said this happened because
sometimes safe houses, which were
supposed to house incoming wit-
nesses, were already occupied by
other people. In these instances, the
witnesses would have to be kept at
a police station. The stay at the sta-
tions for adults and even teenagers,
Seales said, can extend from days to
weeks, while a safe house is found.
"The bureaucratic red tape, it
keeps that person now having to
wait, probably in the homicide office,
probably a month or two months.
Sometimes they have to submit
themselves to the conditions the
policeman has to submit themselves
to, which is not very nice."
He said some witnesses, after
being placed in a safe house, end up
leaving out of fear.
In some instances, Seales said,
police officers act as psychologists
and counsellors when witnesses
"That is not for us to do," he
Seales said no amount of money
pumped into the programme would
help, since there was a lack of con-
sideration for the witness, who
wanted to return to a normal life.
Promises made to witnesses are
sometimes not fulfilled, he said.
In addition, he has seen incidents
in which people gave evidence but
the case collapsed, and then: "They
are discarded, so that discourages
other potential witnesses from actu-
ally coming into the programme. It
is not a right position."
Seales said the association has
been trying to deal with the situation
because "what we only have is a leg-
islative framework as to how the
programme should run."
He appealed to the Ministry of
Justice to strengthen the programme.
"What we want is proper support
structures put in place."
He said guarding and taking a wit-
ness to and from court was second-
ary, the primary goal was to ensure
they don t flee.
"When the person leaves the pro-
gramme, that is ultimately the failure
of the State."
to legislation needed
Director of the Police Complaints
Authority (PCA) Gillian Lucky is
calling for a more robust programme.
She said a properly functioning,
active, and robust programme would
assist in getting witnesses to come
Lucky suggested the legislation
should be revisited to make her
authority an entity that could provide
Generally, Lucky said, witnesses
do not come forward.
"So we really need to upgrade the
witness protection programme. We
have to revisit the legislation. I have
not seen any amendments to the
"One of the amendments to the
PCA that we are recommending...we
are asking in terms of the PCA to
be given the resources and facilities
to provide witness protection. As it
stands we cannot provide witness
protection. We have to depend on
other agencies. That in itself is a
challenge, because we cannot go to
the police to provide it, because our
act prevents that."
Instead, Lucky said the PCA has
been providing other means of pro-
"In other words, provide confi-
dentiality to those who give us infor-
Pointing out that T&T s detection
rate was low, Lucky said, the main
contributing factor to this problem
was that people are afraid to give
"Based on what is happening in
the country, there are people who
are afraid to come forward and give
evidence....and you need to have a
robust witness protection pro-
gramme because the types of crimes
being committed now, persons who
want to come forward to give evi-
dence want to ensure that they and
their families are protected at all
Lucky said "things have reached
to a really bad stage."
She said there was a time when
one had to worry about the witness.
"Now you have to worry about
undermine critical tenets
of criminal justice system
Criminologist Renee Cummings
said witness protection programmes
across the world are very costly, since
they do not only provide security,
but relocation and a change of iden-
"No one really knows what goes
on in a witness protection pro-
gramme unless you are in it. The
inner workings are very secretive. It
is about taking people and changing
their way of life, and that calls for
major resources in a small society
where everyone knows everyone and
there are few secrets."
Providing 24-hour protection to
witnesses while they are in a high-
threat environment, Cummings said,
was not easy because they require
resources from food to medical treat-
For those who choose to stay in
touch with friends and family, Cum-
mings said, it could be deadly and
at their own peril.
She also explained that most of
the witnesses involved are not law-
"Most are criminals or doing busi-
ness with criminal organisations.
This presents additional challenges
for a programme."
Cummings said the country had
an overwhelmed justice system that
has been struggling to keep pace as
old cases pile up, prosecutions fail
at an alarming rate, lives stall while
waiting for court hearings and trust
in the criminal justice system and
its ability to protect the public evap-
"Failures by nearly every compo-
nent of the criminal justice system
have contributed to the culture of
delay, and justice delayed is justice
She insists there must be a speedy
trial law, as seen internationally
where there is a stipulated time frame
for a case to move through the court
"I can only speak for New York
City, where I worked in therapeutic
jurisprudence, and the target is 180
days after arraignment for most
felony trials to begin.
"The backlog is much about court
scheduling and court management
and which aspect of the criminal
justice system is pausing the clock."
Cummings said the big question
is, could delays be a strategy by some
Establishing new courts, she said,
would not clear or reduce the backlog
of cases, which had to do with case
and court management.
"Delays and backlog undermine
one of the most critical tenets of the
criminal justice system, which is the
promise of a speedy trial and the
right to a speedy trial."
George: No comment
A note sent to Justice Minister
Emmanuel George in the Senate on
September 25, seeking an interview
about the programme, was not
However, contacted on October 4
on his cellphone, George said he had
received the note, which he read out
in its entirety.
Asked what new the programme
has offered to witnesses, he said, "I
have your note in front of me. My
plan was to call you. I did not throw
away your note because I know I
have to call you.
"I had to call you to give you bad
news. The very bad news is I need
to say the obvious to you: this wit-
ness protection programme is very
delicate thing and no information
will go out about this from the min-
George made it abundantly clear
that this was not his official com-
Asked what was, George said there
was no official comment.
"Understand, this is a whole secu-
rity issue for us, as things are already
bad, as you are aware. So the less
we say about the witness protection
programme the better. Is not only
for me, but it goes for you in the
press and as a citizen."
Former justice minister Christlyn
Moore also shied away from the
topic, while Attorney General Anand
Ramlogan suggested that we speak
to George, since the programme fell
under his ministry.
Acting CoP Stephen Williams said
owing to the nature of the pro-
gramme, he preferred not to speak.
National Security Minister Gary
Griffith did not respond to a text
message sent on October 4.
Lucky: Upgrade witness
PCA director Gillian Lucky
Justice Minister Emmaunel George
National Security Minister Gary
Criminologist Renee Cummings
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