Witness protection - New Challenges in a Borderless World

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21 June 2012

Witness protection faces new challenges in the age of internet, in a world of free movement, flowing data and into which biometrics are being introduced all of which considerably complicates the possibility of hiding and protecting endangered persons.

Enhancing of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in a witness protection, where lives of protected persons depends on measures taken by all involved services, requires knowledge of partner´s abilities, skills and applied measures.

However, often only personal meetings and courses are the available methods for sharing know-how in this sensitive field. Therefore CEPOL courses contribute to fill this information vacuum.

Twenty-six participants from 20 EU Member States plus Switzerland attended this course on witness protection organised at the Presidium of the Police Force, on 14-18 May in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Slovak experts delivered the majority of presentations and shared their experience with practical exercises on measures such a videoconferencing and issuing of cover documents. Speakers from Poland and Italy, including anti-mafia prosecutor Dr Roberto Pennisi, presented their special experience and illustrated rules on one of the course’s key points: “Collaborators of Justice and Witness Protection”. The aim was to introduce witness protection as one part of measures taken by criminal justice agencies in the fight against serious crime. Presentations included transformation of common law principles into civil law systems and relationship with the witness protection.

The main objective of this course was to extend the understanding of witness protection, not only at national level but also in the international context and to cope with related new challenges.

“Legal and Practical Aspects of Identity Changes in Witness Protection”, a Slovak comparative study, pointed out some of the differences that exist in this protective measure and which sometimes can create serious problems for partner´s services during international cooperation on concrete cases. Discussions following the presentation highlighted that harmonisation in this field needs to be improved.

“Whistle-blowers at High Risk”, a collection of international case studies, showed that the importance and role these figures play in a sound and healthy society, is not recognised enough yet. Although they often provide information or testimonies in serious cases, the need to also protect such persons in witness protection programs has not been sufficiently discussed and examined during such events so far.

“Biometrics and witness protection”, a presentation given by the Slovak WPU, drew attention to the issue of biometrics which was first presented in 2006 during the Salzburg forum meeting and later elaborated at the Europol and Interpol 2007 symposium. This CEPOL course discussed updated results from specific research and the current trends which pose serious threats to the ability to hide protected witnesses.

Last but not least, during the course participants were informed about a draft multilateral agreement on cooperation in the field of witness protection which is being elaborated by the Salzburg forum countries. This important work aspires to become the basis for an EU agreement on witness protection.

Some comments from course participants:

  • The topics of the course were very interesting for me. The course contributed to developing my skills and abilities. The information which I gained will help me definitely in my job.
  • I think the trainers and experts were amazing. It was a pleasure for me to gather information on the topics, especially the Slovak, Italian and Polish methods of witness protection.
  • The course content was excellent and the lecturers delivered the content in an easy to understand way and hit the key issues of our business. The course manager was particularly interesting and the manner and enthusiasm of his work was commendable.

The course was organised by the Slovak CEPOL team with support from Italy and Poland.


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