Parliament passes extensive witness protection law

02-03-2001

Earlier this week, the Lower House of Parliament passed a new law that for the first time will guarantee long-term witness protection programs. According to the government, the new law is similar to laws in place in many western countries. It includes relocation, the creation of new identities, and even plastic surgery in cases where witnesses' lives could be at risk after testifying. Radio Prague's Pavla Navratilova has this report.

Up until now, the Czech Republic has had no equivalent of the witness protection programs available in many western countries. The ministries involved in creating the new law hope that it will remove existing barriers that hinder the prosecution of many dangerous criminals, especially those involved in organized crime.

Under the new law, any witness who feels their life is in danger, can apply for witness protection. If their request is granted, they can receive a new identity, a new life abroad, or even plastic surgery in extreme cases. I spoke to Vladamir Kral, the head of Penal Code Department of the Ministry of Justice, and asked him how close the law is to similar legislation in the West:

"When preparing this law, the Interior Ministry analysed similar laws in the West, in order to find the best possible approach to use in the Czech Republic. Although witness protections laws differ from state to state in accordance with their legal system, the fundamental elements are always the same. Our version of this law contains these core elements."

Mr. Kral says he does not foresee any major problems with the implementation of the law, but rather with the public perception of its purpose and scope:

"The one problem I think we will encounter is that the public seems to have the impression that if they are concerned, they can get protection, even if they are not really in danger. This law, however, will not cater for everyone, but only those who are truly at risk."

02-03-2001