Witness Protection Authority approved

Program to involve changing witnesses' identity, housing, also provide economic aid and bodyguards.

moshe lador 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
moshe lador 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a long-awaited bill to establish a witness-protection program to protect those who testify in the most serious criminal trials from revenge attacks. The decision to present the bill for approval in the Knesset marks a milestone along the path that began in 2002, when then-state attorney Edna Arbel and then-Israel Police inspector-general Shlomo Aharonishky appointed a committee headed by current State Attorney Moshe Lador to examine the issue. In the report he submitted in 2004, Lador recommended establishing such a program. He wrote that "according to the committee's findings, the phenomenon of threatening witnesses in this country today is common and broad in scope. It is continuing to spread, especially in view of the expansion of organized crime and the consolidation of methods of operation characteristic of these criminal systems." On December 18, 2005, then justice minister Tzipi Livni and then public security minister Gideon Ezra approved the report and agreed to establish the program. Two weeks later, on January 1, 2006, the cabinet approved the decision. Over the past two years, the Public Security Ministry prepared the legislation that was approved by the ministerial committee on Sunday. According to the bill, the authority will provide protection to people designated as "protected witnesses." Based on the Lador report, the government expects about 20 such witnesses a year, including suspects or convicted criminals who have agreed to turn state's witness. To grant a witness protection, the threat against him must be judged very high and they must testify in trials involving serious and organized crimes. The bill provides the outlines for the organization and administration of the Witness Protection Authority, which will be established within the Public Security Ministry. It also set down the requirements for the head of the authority, the staff and the bodyguards. According to the legislation, should a police officer think that a witness requires protection, and with the prior approval of a district prosecutor, he may recommend to the authority to protect the witness. The officer will include a report with details on the potential witness, including an estimation of the danger he is in. The district attorney will add an opinion regarding the public's interest in having the witness protected. If the witness is accepted into the program, a committee will determine the "basket" of protections to offer him. These include changing the witness's identity; his place of residence, including the possibility of reestablishing him in a foreign country; economic arrangements; and bodyguards. The family of the witness may also be included in the protection program, according to the bill. The proposed authority already has a head. The cabinet approved the appointment of Aryeh Livneh on January 28, 2007.