Witness protection

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A protected witness guarded by U.S. Marshals.

Witness protection is protection of a threatened witness or any person involved in the justice system, including defendants and other clients, before, during and after a trial, usually by police. While a witness may only require protection until the conclusion of a trial, some witnesses are provided with a new identity and may live out the rest of their lives under government protection.

Witness protection is usually required in trials against organized crime, where law enforcement sees a risk for witnesses to be intimidated by colleagues of defendants. It is also used at war crime trials.

Witness protection by country[edit]

Not all countries have formal witness protection programs, instead, local police may implement informal protection as the need arises in specific cases.


Canada's Witness Protection Program Act became law when it was signed on June 20, 1996[1] by then Governor General Roméo LeBlanc.

Hong Kong[edit]

Multiple disciplined service under the Security Bureau of Hong Kong had specialized units provide protection for witnesses and their families that came to posing threats to their life.

The units are notably Witness Protection Unit (WPU) of the Hong Kong Police Force, Witness Protection and Firearms Section (R4) of ICAC and the similar section to the WPU of the HK Customs.

The members of these units undergo training in mostly tactics of protection, firearms, self-defense, physical and tactical training and they are mostly trained in the use of, and issued, the Glock 19 compact handgun as sidearm. The standard Glock 17 or the long arms such as the Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun or the Remington Model 870 shotgun maybe issued if the witness are posed to bigger threats.

A new identity could be given to a witness and he or she could even immigrate somewhere far from Hong Kong applied by the government if the witness are still being threatened after the protection is given after the trial of the case.

New Zealand[edit]

The New Zealand Police provide protection for witnesses against members of criminal gangs and serious criminals who feel threatened or intimidated. They run a Witness Protection Programme that monitors the welfare of witnesses and if necessary, helps create new identities.[2]

There is an agreement between the police and the Department of Corrections to ensure that protected witnesses receive appropriate protection from that department.[3]

In 2007 the programme became the subject of public controversy when a protected witness's previous conviction for drunk driving was withheld from police and he continued driving, eventually killing another motorist in a road accident while drunk.[4]

Republic of China (Taiwan)[edit]

The Republic of China promulgated the Witness Protection Act on February 9, 2000[5] in Taiwan Area.

Republic of Ireland[edit]

The system in the Republic of Ireland is administered by the Attorney General of Ireland. The first person to use the system was Charles Bowden, who was a witness in the murder of the journalist Veronica Guerin.


In Sweden, it is possible to get witness protection if needed, organised by the police. This can involve a new temporary home, hidden or old address registered, sometimes fake identity. But in Sweden, every prosecuted person has, during the trial, the right to know the identity of witnesses (their name and identity number, not address). Having the wrong address, especially the wrong city registered can give big practical difficulties, especially if having children. There is a high risk of the address leaking out, since normally most information that authorities have about people in Sweden is public information.


Swiss law does not provide for a witness protection program. The cantonal police may provide ad hoc protection in exceptional cases.[6]


Thailand maintains a witness protection office under the jurisdiction of the country's Ministry of Justice. Between 1996 and 1997 provisions were drafted for inclusion of a section covering witness protection in the kingdom's 16th constitution, and finally, the witness protection provision was included in the constitution and took effect in the middle of 2003. Thailand's Office of Witness Protection maintains a website.[7] Witnesses in Thai criminal cases, however, have legitimate fears once they commit to testifying.


In Ukraine, depending on the nature of the case and the location of the trial, the safety of witnesses is the responsibility of different agencies, such as the special judicial police unit Gryphon (part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs), the Security Service of Ukraine and the special police unit Berkut.[8][9]

United Kingdom[edit]

The UK has a witness protection system administered by local police services.

United States[edit]

The United States established a formal program of witness protection, run by the U.S. Marshal Service, under the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. Before that, witness protection had been instituted under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 to protect people testifying against members of the Ku Klux Klan. Earlier in the 20th century, the Federal Bureau of Investigation also occasionally crafted new identities to protect witnesses.[10]

Many states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York and Texas, as well as Washington, D.C., have their own witness protection programs for crimes not covered by the federal program. The state-run programs provide less extensive protections than the federal program. They also cannot hold or have as many people involved as the federal program.[11][12][13]

Before witness protection funds can be sought, law enforcement must conduct an assessment of the threat or potential for danger. This assessment includes an analysis of the extent the person or persons making the threats appear to have the resources, intent, and motivation to carry out the threats and how credible and serious the threats appear to be. When threats are deemed credible and witnesses request law enforcement assistance, witness protection funds can be used to provide assistance to witnesses which helps law enforcement keep witnesses safe and help ensure witnesses appear in court and provide testimony.[14]

Special arrangements, known as S-5 and S-6 visas, also exist to bring key alien witnesses into the US from overseas.[15] T visas may be used to admit into the United States victims of human trafficking willing to assist in prosecuting the smugglers.[16]


  1. ^ Government of Canada. "Witness Protection Program Act (1996)". LegislationOnline. 
  2. ^ New Zealand Police. "CIB: International Organised Crime". Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  3. ^ Corrections Department NZ. "Corrections Department NZ - Witness Protection". Archived from the original on 2007-11-07. Retrieved 2010-11-18. 
  4. ^ Scanlon, Sean (2007-10-28). "Grieving mother wants answers after witness protection tragedy". Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  5. ^ Witness Protection Act, English translation from the Ministry of Justice
  6. ^ Federal Office of Justice. "Aussergerichtlicher Zeugenschutz" (in German). VPB 2007.19. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Кожен з бійців чернігівського «Грифону» у будь-який момент готовий зі зброєю в руках захистити клієнта (in Ukrainian)
  9. ^ СБУ забезпечує захист свідків у "справі Олійника" (in Ukrainian)
  10. ^ Gary T. Rowe Jr., 64, Who Informed on Klan In Civil Rights Killing, Is Dead states "He was buried under the name of Thomas Neal Moore, the identity that Federal authorities helped him to assume in 1965 after he testified against fellow Klansmen..."
  11. ^ California Witness Protection Program - California Bureau of Investigation - California Dept. of Justice - Office of the Attorney General[dead link]
  12. ^ Glaberson, William (2003-07-06). "LIE OR DIE -- Aftermath of a Murder; Justice, Safety and the System: A Witness Is Slain in Brooklyn". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ Published: July 09, 1999 (1999-07-09). "METRO NEWS BRIEFS: CONNECTICUT; Witness Protection Plan Is Created by New Law". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2013-01-04. 
  14. ^ Matthew O'Deane. "gang". Gangs: Theory, Practice and Research. 
  15. ^ "The ABC’S Of Immigration: S Visas for Aliens Assisting Law Enforcement". Visalaw.com. 2004-08-02. Retrieved 2013-01-04. 
  16. ^ "Victims of Human Trafficking: T Nonimmigrant Status". Uscis.gov. Retrieved 2013-01-04. 

External links[edit]