Witness Care for a Safer Bahamas

“Prior to the establishment of the Witness Care Unit the accused was the person the entire justice system focused on. Now witnesses and victims have a place they can call to receive vital information,” says Mrs. Yvonne Rolle, Senior Manager for the Criminal Case Management and Witness Care Units. Mrs. Rolle leads the team of unsung Bahamian heroes in the Office of the Attorney-General who are responsible for keeping witnesses and victims informed on the status of criminal cases and options for their protection..

The Witness Care Unit started as a pilot project in October 2010 in alignment with the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. “The unit was established as the first place of contact, from the arraignment stage, for victims and witnesses of crime in the Office of the Attorney-General,” noted Mrs. Rolle.

The Witness Care Unit was officially launched in February 2011. Beginning 2015, the Attorney-General, Mrs. Allyson Maynard-Gibson, QC, introduced the “Witness Feel the Love Project”. Under this project, the Unit adopted new standard operating procedures to make their interaction with victims and witnesses even more efficient.

Victims and witnesses are contacted soon after arraignment, and when trial dates are set. The Witness Care Unit also keeps in regular contact with witnesses and victims. They are updated on the status of their case every two months from arraignment; they are also informed of the results of all bail hearings in Supreme Court. However, details about bail hearings will continue to be found on the Office of the Attorney-General’s website. Since August of 2015, the unit has dealt with approximately 155 cases. Mrs. Rolle exclaimed proudly, “Even after trials are completed, witnesses call us to say thank you for all our help, and that is so fulfilling for the team.”

Despite the dedication of the Witness Care Unit, this work has not been easy. “With the popularity of cellular phones, people now change their numbers repeatedly, which makes keeping track of victims and witnesses a complicated task,” said Mrs. Rolle. She also noted that “some vulnerable victims and witnesses have reservations about giving evidence because of the fear of retaliation from the accused or suspects. Many are unaware, but they have options” she said, referring to the use of the Anonymity Order (securing the anonymity of witnesses in criminal proceedings).

When obtained, the Anonymity Order prohibits the identity of the witness from being revealed in any court documents. It also allows for witnesses to give  testimony by video link from a secured location, having their face concealed and voice distorted. For persons living abroad who do not wish to travel, they can give evidence via video link. In addition, the Attorney General Office in conjunction with the Royal Bahamas Police Force, provides witness protection for vulnerable victims and witnesses of crimes.

The Office of the Attorney-General is leading an unprecedented effort to strengthen the criminal justice system, and focusing on the care of witnesses is a top priority. “If we want a safer Bahamas,” Mrs. Rolle concluded, “we need victims and witnesses to come forward. We are here to help.”

If you have been a victim of a crime or are a witness, the Director of Public Prosecution and Mrs. Rolle and team will continue to be available on phone and email. You may call the Office of the Attorney-General at 502-0400 for more information on how you can help make our Bahamas a safer Bahamas.

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