MEASURES are required to protect witnesses and jurors after official figures revealed that cases of intimidation have more than doubled in the last two years.
Government figures show that prosecutions for intimidation of witnesses and jurors jumped 127%, from 18 in 2008 to 41 in 2010.
A total of 99 cases have been taken since 2008, 21 of which have resulted in a conviction.
“These are stark figures. The number of cases has more than doubled,” said Joan Dean of AdVIC (Advocates for Victims of Homicide).
“These figures show the need for some measure of protection to be put in place for witnesses,” she said. “Otherwise some people may refuse to be witnesses.”
The figures show there were:
18 prosecutions (five convictions) in 2008.
31 prosecutions (10 convictions) in 2009.
41 prosecutions (six convictions) in 2010.
Nine prosecutions (no convictions) so far in 2011.
“There are families who have great difficulty in trying to give evidence,” said Ms Dean. “The nature of the intimidation can be quite serious and traumatic. It’s a terrible burden.”
Ms Dean said the figures may also indicate an improvement in detection and prosecution.
But she warned: “If it continues, the net result is that people might stay away from becoming witnesses.”
Ms Dean said steps had to be taken to protect witnesses. “They should consider witnesses not having to give evidence in open court, use audio links for evidence, have witnesses screened.”
The previous government cited intimidation as a reason for referring gangland cases to the non-jury Special Criminal Court (SCC).
However, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said that SCC witnesses still had to give evidence in open court.
“Witness intimidation is a real issue and one which the use of the Special Criminal Court does nothing to tackle,” said Mark Kelly, ICCL director.
But he added there was no “hard evidence” to support doing away with jury trials due to intimidation. This was reaffirmed by the fact that gardaí do not consider it worthwhile to keep separate records for it, he said.
The ICCL said witnesses can be protected by “anonymity before, during and after a criminal trial”, by:
Screening witnesses in court.
Using audiovisual recordings of witness statements.
Revealing the identity of witnesses at the latest possible stage.
Excluding the media and the public from all or part of a trial.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter said there was no separate data for witness and juror intimidation.
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