Witness Protection Act to be amended to enhance justice delivery
17 June 2015, 21:47
Nairobi – Persons found guilty of threatening or intimidating court witnesses in an attempt to hinder them from testifying will be slapped with heavy penalties following amendments to the Witness Protection Agency (WPA) Act.
Anyone threatening a witness protected under WPA programme commits an offence according to Section 30 of the Act and will be liable to a maximum fine of KES 2 million from the initial KES 1 million or an imprisonment term not exceeding five years, or both.
The WPA Director, Alice Ondiek said her agency is up to task to ensure rule of law is enhanced and ending impunity for witnesses to testify without fear of intimidation through investigation and prosecution of culprits thwarting justice.
“To those who have developed a habit of committing crimes and threatening and intimidating witnesses not to report or appear in court to testify, we are telling them their days are numbered,” warned Ondiek.
The proposed amendments also give WPA powers to summon a public officer or anyone to provide it with relevant evidence at a specified period, failure to which one risks a fine not exceeding KES 500 000 or jailed for a term not more than three years, or both penalties.
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However, the agency will have powers to search witnesses protected under its programme and seize property or items regarded a threat to the protected person, others or the agency’s integrity.
The Attorney General, Githu Muigai reiterated that there is need to ensure witnesses are well protected due to emerging new forms of organized and complex crimes in the country such as terrorism, piracy, cyber crimes, corruption, drug trafficking, money-laundering, sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, poaching, election offences among others.
“It is evident that perpetrators of these serious crimes and heinous crimes are hard to prosecute as there is hardly any person willing to testify for fear of reprisal including danger and the threat of death,” said Muigai.
“Witness protection becomes critical in ensuring successful investigation, prosecution and adjudication of such serious crimes,” he added.
The amendments to the Act further allow WPA to enter into a treaty with foreign countries’ witness protection agencies to have Kenyan witnesses protected under their programmes based on the nature of risk or threat they face after providing substantial justification.
Muigai said, “A successful resolve to check crime must therefore entail collaboration of both local and international partners. The government encourages such partnerships and collaborative frameworks that help strengthen the justice system in the country.”
Moreover, the agency will have a Victims Compensation Fund to pay families of witnesses who die while under the WPA’s protection programme.
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