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PM: Victims, witnesses need better care

The”poor management”and care of victims and witnesses of crime is causing”serious damage”to the successful prosecution of criminals, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham asserted yesterday as he officially opened a witness care conference.

Ingraham said the matter has needed attention for some time.

“For a variety of reasons a number of persons are showing a general reluctance to appear as witnesses in trials,”he said.”One of the myriad of reasons contributing to this is an absent witness care program.”

The prime minister said a typical complaint is that witnesses receive a summons demanding their attendance at court at a specific time, on a specific date to give evidence. He added that apart from considering holidays, victims and witnesses are given no other thought and are simply expected to turn up when needed.

“There are many parts to the operation of a criminal justice system, none more important than witnesses and victims but we pay too little attention to them,”said Ingraham at the conference, which is being held at police headquarters on East Street.

“Just as when a person is first charged in the Magistrates’Court, the case is adjourned to a date certain, cases in our Supreme Court should only be adjourned to a fixed date,”Ingraham said.

“In my view, every criminal case coming before our courts should only be adjourned to a date certain. There is no other way to manage cases than courts, when granting adjournments, determining when they will be next heard.”

Ingraham said the Supreme Court needs to enhance its case management for criminal cases.

He added that the mismanagement of cases is adding to the”disfunctionality”of the criminal justice system.

“And our courts must be released from our bureaucracy so that simple things, like the repair of air-conditioning, do not remain subject to bureaucratic delays,”Ingraham said.

In addition to better management of cases, the prime minister said much more needs to be done to accommodate the witnesses.

He pointed out that cases are scheduled to suit attorneys.

“Witnesses are summoned to appear in court at 10 a.m on a particular day without regard as to what time of day or indeed in many instances, on which day, they will give evidence,” he said.

Ingraham insisted that witnesses and victims of crimes need to be regularly updated on the progress of investigations, including in cases where a suspect is arrested, charged and given bail when applicable.

He announced that witness care officers will be responsible for informing all victims and witnesses about court cases until the end of the trial.

“However, witness care does not stop there; it is more than giving people information, as important as that is,”the prime minister added.

“It is also about getting to understand every victim and witness as an individual, to understand what their particular journey through the criminal justice system will look like so that any concerns, needs, intimidation or interference can be dealt with.”

Police have acknowledged that witness tampering and intimidation are major problems.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Glenn Miller toldThe Nassau Guardianlast year that the force was working to strengthen the country’s witness protection program.

At the time, Miller said,”We’ve certainly seen witness intimidation. It’s been going on for a while and we’ve had cases where witnesses were actually killed.”

Ingraham said it is not a cliche to say’no witness no justice’.

“Witness care is about putting victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system,”he said.

Pointing to the”unacceptable high backlog of cases”, the prime minister said to achieve criminal justice substantial reform and transformation, all parties must work together.

“Glorious will be the day when trials in The Bahamas are completed within three years of the commission of any and all offenses, and re-trials ordered by the courts heard by the Court of Appeal within 12 months,”he said.

The two-day event was organized by the Office of the Attorney General in conjunction with the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

Simon Deacy, a consultant, serves as facilitator for the conference. He is a retired chief superintendent of police in the United Kingdom and was a”National No Witness No Justice”project manager for England and Wales, which is regarded to have significantly assisted the judicial system, Ingraham said.

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