Melbourne: An overhaul of Victoria’s witness protection system will provide increased protection for people who put themselves at risk by cooperating with police.
The Andrews Labor Government on March 23 introduced legislation into the Victorian Parliament that will clamp down on witness intimidation and strengthen the administration and external oversight of the system.
The reforms will extend the Witness Protection Act’s governance and protective measures to a broader range of high risk witnesses. The changes will also: create a new offence with up to ten years’ jail for intimidating a witness, clarify the purpose of witness protection and set out principles that must be considered when certain witness protection decisions are made or witness protection actions are taken, increase police accountability for delivering protective assistance they have agreed to provide, increase community confidence in the program through strengthened independent oversight and appropriate public reporting.
Under the revamped scheme, the Chief Commissioner of Police will continue to have ultimate responsibility and broad discretion around witness protection arrangements and decision making, an official press release said.
This will ensure arrangements can be tailored to individual circumstances of witnesses and their families.
However, the Public Interest Monitor will now provide independent assurance that these difficult decisions are made in the public interest and in line with newly legislated principles.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission will also audit witness protection files to ensure compliance with the Act.
Acting Police Minister Robin Scott said, “Our witness protection system must provide strong protection to people who put themselves at risk by cooperating with police on criminal matters. These reforms will ensure greater oversight and accountability, while also maintaining the necessary secrecy associated with the highly sensitive decisions.” (TIW)