Crime boosted by lack of witness protection, claims judge

A senior judge at the criminal court has claimed that a lack of witness protection is the main reason the justice system has failed to check rising crime rates.

At a press conference last week, Senior Judge Abdulla Mohamed said many witnesses are bribed or threatened and many fail to testify in court for fear that they or their families will be in some way hurt.

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizzu agreed the issue was “very serious.”

“Because [the islands of] the Maldives are so small, it makes our job [of protecting witnesses] more difficult,” he said. “In some cases, witnesses are being threatened or intimidated. In other cases they might be bribed or offered rewards.”

Another major concern raised regarding witness protection was the lack of space to hold witnesses and criminals separately, with witnesses and the accused made to sit next to each other in the court houses. Muizzu says that this is something that the courts are trying to address.

He agreed with the judge that witnesses should be allowed to testify anonymously, and said improvements were being made such as allowing witnesses “to testify via video or audio link.”

Muizzu also noted that “there are some issues of witness protection that are pending in parliament.”

The police are also trying to formulate laws to improve witness protection. Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police brought up the issue of witness protection long ago, without response.

“Police get threats as well,” he said. “It’s a major concern for us; we need to give better protection to witnesses.”

Without a witness’ testimony before the prosecution, a case can be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Muizzu explained that “in most cases, confessions made to the police will not have any weight, so it is very important that the witnesses testify for the prosecution in court in order to prove the case.”

Judge Mohamed criticised the lack of cooperation between government institutions, claiming that this was causing delay and even the collapse of many important criminal cases.

The prosecutor general admitted “there have been some instances when there has been delay on our part”, but said he believes that all branches of government are doing their best.

“Our prosecutors do appear in approximately 40-45 cases in criminal court every day, and we do cooperate to the best of our availability of human resources.”

He said there are areas that could be improved, especially witness protection.

“The court will definitely need the cooperation of the police and the prosecution to effectively discharge their duties. And we are prepared for that.”

Shiyam said, “If there is anything police need to be mindful of, judges should tell us what needs to be corrected. They should at least phone senior officers.”

He insisted police are working “hand-in-hand” with other government institutions. “All authorities must come together to provide better security,” he said.

Spokesman for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said the government is “strengthening and improving facilities for all institutions and courts.”

He said issues of space for institutions such as the criminal court would resolved when the ministries move to the new Wellaanage complex, soon to be completed.

He also criticised judge Abdulla Mohamed for failing to take his concerns to the “proper channels.

“I don’t believe people in the judiciary should access media to give political messages,” Zuhair said.