Bob Wiese

Bob Wiese


    Legislation to protect witnesses of serious crime

    5/12/1995 12:00 AM



    Witness protection is an integral part of the fight against serious crime, according to Police Minister Bob Wiese.


    The Witness Protection Bill 1995 was introduced into Parliament today.  Mr Wiese said the program would protect people who were threatened or lived in fear of retribution by reporting a crime to authorities.


    The Minister said in the fight against serious or organised crime the program would assist accomplices - who turn crown witnesses - to change their identities.


    "People who are prepared to risk their own safety by giving evidence to a crime need to be protected at all costs and that protection needs to be extended to their family," he said.


    "Through the program, the level of protection may range from close contact and surveillance through to relocation or even a change of identity and integration back into the community or overseas.


    "Other action may include providing accommodation and transport or assistance in obtaining employment or access to education."


    Mr Wiese said police had been operating a witness protection program in WA since 1989, but without proper statutory powers or controls in place.


    He said on average there were about 12 to 14 people a year who would require new identities under the program.


    WA will be one of the first States to introduce the legislation which complements the Commonwealth Witness Protection Act, 1994.


    Under the Commonwealth Act all States face a time limit to enact their own witness protection legislation by April, 1996. The Commonwealth Act provides that federal agencies - like the taxation office - will not be able to issue personal documents for people given new identities unless there is State legislation in place.


    Mr Wiese said the proposed legislation included safeguards to ensure the maintenance and integrity of the witness protection program was strictly controlled.


    These include:

    *           Police Commissioner decides who enters the witness protection program;

    *           a person cannot avoid civil or criminal liability by joining the program;

    *           a Supreme Court judge must give approval for identity change; and -

    *           severe penalties for divulging the identity of protected witnesses or information   about the program includes imprisonment for up to 10 years and fines up to $12,000.


    Media contact: Mark Thompson 222 9595