Inaction over witness protection slammed

Bureaucracy isn't kind to prosecution witnesses. A year and a half ago, the Swedish government received recommendations to help people testify in criminal trials. The silence since then is angering many.

The Justice Department received a proposal to increase protection for threatened witnesses in January 2004, and a committee proposed that the new policy could be implemented a year later. However, DN writes that the only thing the Justice Department has done is send the proposal out for feedback from communities.

One of the original committeee members, and representative for the Association of Crime Victims, Gudrun Nordborg is unhappy. “This is a law we’ve wanted for a long time and it should be prioritized. We see time and again that these issues are important,” she says to DN.

“Especially in cases dealing with organized crime, we’re seeing that threats against witnesses are increasing,” she adds.

A flurry of escapes last summer (not to mention this summer) overshadowed the issue. But convictions for trying to influence witnesses are increasing, and the issue is again making headlines.

The trial of three men for the killing in May of 29-year old Marcus Gabrielsen has helped to move witness protection up the agenda.

A number of witnesses to the attack on Gabrielsen in central Stockholm changed their accounts before the case came to court, and none of the men were convicted of the killing, although the prosecutor has said that there is no evidence that the witnesses were threatened.

In 2003, 115 people were sentenced to jail for obstructing justice. In 2004 it was 174.

Hans Klette, professor emeritus in criminal justice, is another disappointed voice against the inaction of the government. “It was said then that they would prioritize this issue. But it’s a great shortfall that it’s taken so long to do anything. I’m sure it’s because it costs a great deal (to protect witnesses),” he said to DN.

Lena Carlberg Johansson at the Justice Department is handling the witness protection issue. “It’s on my desk. We’ve started looking at it and are starting to decide what to do, but we haven’t started anything major yet,” she says.