Getting Witness Protection

Description:
If you are a witness and are afraid for your safety for reasons linked to being a witness, you can apply for witness protection. You can be afraid for your own safety or that of anyone related to you. You can be afraid of a single person or of a group of people.

Anyone who is a member of your household or family, or who is close to you in any way, can apply for protection for you if you are unable to do so. You can apply for a child without the child's guardian's (parent or other person responsible for the child) permission if:

  • The guardian is a suspect in the case that the child is a witness to, or
  • If the child has no guardian, or
  • If the guardian cannot be found, or
  • If it can be shown the guardian is refusing to give permission unreasonably.

You are a witness if you are giving evidence (testifying in court or making an affidavit) right now, or if you may have to give evidence in the future, or if you have given evidence in the past. This evidence can be in a serious criminal case, an inquest, a commission or a tribunal, an investigation by the Independent Complaints Directorate or an asset forfeiture case.

You or anyone else threatened will be removed from the dangerous situation as soon as possible. You will be placed into temporary witness protection, after which your application for permanent protection will be considered. If your application is approved then you will be placed in permanent witness protection.

Instructions:
You must be a witness, or applying on behalf of someone who is a witness, to ask for witness protection. You must report your fears, the reason for your fears and that you want to apply for witness protection to any of the following people, who will help you to make an application:
  • The investigating officer (detective) who is investigating the case in which you are a witness.
  • The station commander or anyone who is in charge at any police station .
  • If you are in prison, the person in charge of the prison or a registered social worker at the prison.
  • The public prosecutor in the case in which you are giving evidence, or the Director of Public Prosecutions (formerly known as the Attorney-General) for that area.
  • Any member of the Witness Protection Unit.

The person you have reported to will arrange for removal as soon as possible if you are in immediate danger. You will have to fill in an application form after being removed from the dangerous situation. The Director of the Witness Protection Unit will be told within 48 hours that you have been removed to temporary protection.

You will be kept in temporary protection for no longer than two weeks. During this time a witness protection officer will investigate your application, which includes a risk assessment and an evaluation of you by a psychologist. The officer will report to the Director, who will then decide whether to extend the temporary protection, place you in permanent protection, or refuse the application. The Director might refuse the application if they think that other ways of protecting you are better than placing you in the permanent protection programme.

If the Director decides permanent protection is best, you will have to sign a protection agreement. In this agreement you agree to abide by all the rules of the protection programme, which generally involve not revealing information about the programme, as well as any particular conditions that might have to apply for your case. You will not be placed in permanent protection unless you sign this agreement. The agreement is set up to ensure your own safety as well as the safety of the witness protection officers and everyone related to the programme. All witnesses who have kept to the rules of their protection agreement have remained safe.

Permanent protection does not mean you will be in the protection programme for the rest of your life. Permanent protection lasts as long as the threat against you lasts, plus a phasing out period of six weeks, followed by a discharge. Discharge may involve a new identity being created for you and you may be relocated.

Permanent protection, which continues until you are discharged, includes the following:

  • You and your extended family, where necessary, will be placed in a safe house which is furnished and self-catering (you do not have to pay for this accommodation).
  • You will be relocated away from the area where you usually live if that is considered necessary.
  • A clinical psychologist will do a trauma and psychological assessment and help you with any trauma you might be experiencing.
  • You will undergo an induction programme so that you will know what to expect.
  • If you are unemployed, you will get an allowance for your basic needs.
  • If you are employed, you will get a replacement salary.
  • If your children are with you, arrangements will be made so that they can go to school.
  • Some other costs will also be covered, such as your schooling, transport, clothing and medical costs.

You can be removed from the protection programme if it is found that you have broken any of the rules, or it is found that you are abusing the programme in any way. The programme does not tolerate 'information peddlers', people who pretend to be witnesses so they can go on the programme.

The Witness Protection Unit now also provides 'after-care' to help you to adjust after you leave permanent protection (that is, when you are discharged). During the phasing-out period, another risk assessment will be done. Discharge from permanent protection will probably involve changing your identity. You will be helped to re-integrate into society. You may also have to relocate permanently away from where you used to live. As an example of how this can be done, if you own an RDP house in one area, this can be swapped with an RDP house in another area.

Everything to do with witness protection is done in terms of the Witness Protection Act 112 of 1998. There are nine regional offices of the Witness Protection Unit, one in each of the provinces. However, their exact location is not made public. If you have any queries that you want to direct to the Witness Protection Unit itself, you should contact the Head Office of the Witness Protection Unit, which is in Pretoria and forms part of the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the prosecuting authority in South Africa.

Witness Protection Unit
National Prosecuting Authority
Tel: 012 845 6000

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The content on this page was last updated on 9 September 2013