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33 people in witness protection since launch 10 years ago

Cindy Clarke, Director of Public Prosecutions (Photgraph from Scars website)

More than 30 people have taken part in a secretive witness protection programme since it began ten years ago, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

Cindy Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said there had been 33 participants and 18 “connected persons” who had been protected.

There are six participants in the scheme at present, which was set up under the Justice Protection Act 2010 to enable overseas relocation for witnesses who were at risk.

Ms Clarke said that since the programme began another seven applications had been considered and rejected “as sufficient assistance was provided to allay the threat risk”.

She added: “The average duration of protection or assistance is three years.”

Little has been reported about the programme, as the legislation makes it a criminal offence to disclose information about the identity or location of anyone who is, or was, involved or “compromises the safety or security of a participant or the integrity of the programme”.

It is also a crime for participants or anyone assessed for potential participation to reveal any information about the programme without permission.

People convicted of breaches of the Act could face a fine of up to $100,000 or a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.

The Royal Gazette was recently unable to report on the story of a former participant because it would have led to charges of aiding or counselling the person to breach the Act.

Ms Clarke agreed to answer general questions by e-mail about the programme after she warned the newspaper against publication of the participant’s story.

She said: “No one has been prosecuted under section 21 – however, we are prepared to do so should the need arise.”

Ms Clarke said no participants or former participants had asked permission to reveal information about their involvement.

She added: “The former participant that you are aware of has sought to speak to the press and he did not seek permission to do so.”

Ms Clarke said anyone with complaints about the programme could register them.

She added: “The participant can ask the DPP personally to review certain decisions under the Justice Protection Act 2010.

“Additionally, as the Justice Protection Administrative Centre is a body established by legislation, the Ombudsman may choose to be involved in certain complaints.”

The publicly-funded programme, whose records are exempt from the Public Access to Information Act, is given about half a million dollars from the Ministry of Legal Affairs in the annual government Budget.

More than $4 million has been allocated to the programme since 2012, including an estimated $520,000 for the current financial year and $325,000 for 2021-22.

The Legal Affairs budget will be debated today in Parliament but the justice protection programme is unlikely to be scrutinised like most departments due to the need for secrecy.

Ms Clarke said the programme did not publish financial statements but was subject to financial oversight and performance measurement, even if the results were not made public.

She added that she could not provide the total expenditure of the programme or a spending breakdown as it was information that “may compromise the safety or security of a participant and or the integrity of the programme”.

But Ms Clarke said: “I will confirm that the budget assigned has never been higher than $465,000.”

She said the money went on reasonable living expenses for participants and their families, other reasonable financial assistance and relocation costs, including helping participants to find work, access to education and healthcare, and ensuring they become self-sustaining.

Ms Clarke said all the funds came from the Ministry of Legal Affairs, with no additional spending from the Bermuda Police Service budget.

She said she could not give further information on financial oversight or performance tracking, which is reported to the Attorney-General, as it could compromise the programme.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, told the House of Assembly during the 2019 Budget debate that the programme continued to “produce excellent dividends for Bermuda by contributing to the successful prosecution and conviction of criminals“.

She added: “The success of this legislative initiative is apparent from the increase in successful prosecutions, particularly those that are gang-related and involve violent offenders, similar to within other jurisdictions.“