ANPStavros Zouridis, deputy chairman of the OVV
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 21:27
The system for protecting relatives of crown witnesses urgently needs to be overhauled, the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) concluded yesterday about the three liquidations involving crown witness Nabil B. The damning report casts a shadow over the planned expansion of the crown witness scheme.
Minister Yesilgöz (Justice and Security) also wants to be able to persuade less serious criminals to become key witnesses, she announced in November last year. She gave as examples a bookkeeper, notary or port employee who is involved in the underworld.
There is also a plan to be able to cancel the entire sentence if someone testifies against kingpins in the underworld. But only if the informant faces a maximum prison sentence of six years: for criminals with a sentence of more than six years, the current maximum of 50 percent sentence reduction will continue to apply.
‘A Bitter Pill’
The House of Representatives has yet to make a decision on the plan. But experts believe that the ministry should first solve the problems in the current system. Because the critical OVV report does not come out of the blue, according to lawyer Sander Janssen.
Ten years ago he wrote his dissertation on the role of key witnesses in criminal proceedings. “Many of today’s problems are already described in it. And then things go very wrong ten years later, that is a bitter pill,” says Janssen in the NOS Radio 1 Journaal.
Upper layers of criminal organizations have shielded themselves in such a way that you cannot get there with phone taps alone.
Jan Crijns, professor of criminal procedure law
Due to ‘separated worlds’ within the Public Prosecution Service and the police, important signals were missed in the run-up to the murders of the brother of crown witness Nabil B., B.’s lawyer Derk Wiersum and his confidant Peter R. de Vries, according to the OVV fixed. According to the research council, to be able to take a stand against organized crime, the so-called ‘monitoring and security system’ must be reformed.
That reform has already been set in motion, Minister Yesilgöz emphasized in a first reaction yesterday. Since 2021, extra investments have been made in the capacity to protect people. In a few weeks, the Minister of Justice will issue a detailed response to the report.
Despite the shortcomings, the use of key witnesses is an important instrument to bring serious criminals to justice, says Jan Crijns, professor of criminal law at Leiden University. “Certain upper layers of criminal organizations have shielded themselves in such a way that you cannot easily get there with only telephone taps or traditional investigative methods.”
According to him, there have been about 10 to 15 crown witnesses in the Netherlands since the current rules were introduced in 2006. The method is therefore only used to a limited extent: only for the most serious category of criminals.
Two hats on
According to Crijns, the rules for using crown witnesses abroad do not differ that much from those in our country. Except for one point: “Abroad it is better arranged that the security issue is at a greater distance from the criminal law issue,” says the professor.
The Public Prosecution Service is responsible on the one hand for the protection of key witnesses, but also for the prosecution of the persons against whom the informant testifies. It is undesirable for the Public Prosecution Service to wear two hats, as it were, says lawyer Janssen. “Because then one interest can lose out to the other.”
In 2021, the Bos Committee was also critical of the mixing of roles at the Public Prosecution Service. Justice says it is being worked on, but it is still unclear what will change.
As far as OM chief Gerrit van der Burg is concerned, the crown witness system certainly has a future. “We want to make more use of smaller players in criminal organizations in the future,” he said in Nieuwsuur yesterday. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Watch the full interview here:
Boss OM responds to damning OVV report about his organization
Van der Burg mentioned one example of a crown witness deal that fell through due to security risks. According to him, the “safety rating has become firmer” among key witnesses in recent years.
Lawyer Janssen: “I think you should seriously consider what type of cases you want to use crown witnesses.” It can certainly be useful for serious organized crime, he thinks. “But it has become apparent that if people on that side are prepared for such far-reaching forms of violence and in such broad circles around a key witness, you as a government cannot get all of this secured.”
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