Above: Justice Minister and Attorney General Patrice Nisbett (Photo: CUOPM)
By the Caribbean Journal staff
With increased incidence of witness tampering and other interference with criminal trials in St Kitts and Nevis, Attorney General Patrice Nisbett says new legislation has been introduced to tackle the problem.
The Evidence Bill 2010 seeks to re-examine the law relating to the evidence of vulnerable witnesses he said.
“This country is very well aware of the challenges faced by the prosecution in securing conviction for offences like murder,” he said. “These challenges are witness tampering, witness intimidation, and unfortunately, in some cases, witness elimination.”
In order to protect themselves from victimization, some witnesses change testimony at trial from what was originally disclosed to police.
“It is therefore not surprising to see 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 reform of the law would mean that where a so-called vulnerable witness has been threatened by a defendant or on behalf of a defendant, he or she can make application for an order allowing their statement to be used at trial, in lieu of actually appearing.
The bill would also abolish unsworn statements from the dock by defendants.
“At present, the playing field between the prosecution and the defence is not level, in so far as the defendant is allowed to make an unsworn statement from the dock, the veracity of which is never tested by the prosecution in cross-examination,” he said.