Witness testimony has critical value in investigating and prosecuting crime. For this reason many witnesses – in particular those who testify against organised crime – are intimidated and threatened.
The state protects witnesses in various ways, sometimes going as far as to relocate them and give them new identity through participation in witness protection programmes (WPPs). This tool is however used only in exceptional cases, with admittance governed by strict, objective criteria.
The US Federal Witness Security Programme was the first such scheme, and has served as a model for other countries. UN conventions, the practice of international criminal tribunals, Council of Europe recommendations and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights are among other sources of inspiration for countries building their own programmes.
There is a growing number of WPPs in the EU Member States. Differences between them have been linked to the variety in legal traditions and experiences with organised crime.
The EU has given some guidance to MS regarding witness protection in the context of organised crime and has considered harmonising national legislation in this area. The idea was put on hold, however, following the Commission’s impact assessment of 2007.