Maldives takes revolutionary step in witness protection

The flaws in the Maldivian judicial system are no secret to the local population. Measures have been taken across past generations to address these flaws, and to upgrade the courts to a more modernized system. The current government has also been attempting to bring about change in the judicial system.

The biggest challenge faced by the Maldivian legal system is perhaps, the inability to secure witnesses and evidence against career criminals. This issue is magnified due to the relatively small population of Maldives, where everyone is acquainted with one another. Many refuse to testify in court to crimes they witnessed, out of fear of reprisal.

The government has proposed a new amendment regarding the law covering witnesses to the Parliament, leaving the public to wonder whether this bill would prove the answer to long overdue problem.

Key points have been included in the new bill presented by a government member to the Parliament, involving the protection of witnesses.

Countries around the world with developed legal systems have measures which they can use to protect witnesses. Maldives however, has no such measures set in place, with police often having to improvise in order to protect witnesses. While witnesses brought from islands have to be kept in Male, police may have to wait around to keep the witnesses from harm. However, with no legal backing, these measures are not nearly enough to keep the witnesses from danger.

The doors have already been opened towards the very first steps in securing witness protection, with the introduction of this bill. Experts predict this to be an excellent move for the Maldivian judicial system, with justice more likely to be ensured when witnesses no longer have to fear for their lives.

An article in the bill states, that should the prosecution see a witness as needing protection in any stage of the investigation, than the prosecution may request in court for an order of protection for the witness, before the testimony is given.

Witnesses also have the option to request for the prosecution to classify them as a witness needing protection, should they feel that there is any fear of reprisal against themselves or their families.

If the new bill is passed, should the judge presiding over the case see a witness as needing protection, than the judge would have the power to command the police and other entities to keep the witness from coming to any harm.

Judges will also have the option to decide the level of threat presented to the witness after giving their testimonies.

If a question asked by the legal defence of the witness may reveal clues as to his or her identity, then the judge can rule the question as void. The testimony must be given in secret, in the same way secret witnesses give testimonies at present.

The bill also includes more features securing protection for witnesses, with the location of the witness also to be kept secret, with no one but those decided by the judge presiding over the case to know the location. The bill states that the identity of the witness must be kept secure throughout the investigation and both during and post trial.

Should the witness in question be under 18 at the time of giving testimony, then the parents of the child will be placed in protection as well. The property of the witness must be protected by the government as well, after assessing the level of threat faced by the witness.

Debate on the bill is believed to begin as early as next week. Such bills are important in securing the integrity of the legal system in the Maldives and to keep violent career criminals behind bars.