Not Enough Protection for Crime Victims and Witnesses in Poland

Laws regulating the protection of victims and witnesses in Poland may be unconstitutional. The result? Victims become victimized again – this time by the government, which takes away their fundamental rights and control over their own life.
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights requested the Minister of Justice for starting a legislative action concerning unconstitutionality of some of the regulations of the Act on Witness and Victim Protection.

Report a crime, become isolated

The Kowalski* family was running a consulting company cooperating with eastern firms. While servicing one of the companies, they noticed that it most probably is laundering money. After reporting a possible crime, the Kowalski family started receiving threats and their house was set on fire.

The police decided to move the family to a safe house in another city. As a result, the family has been living in isolation for 8 months, as they are forbidden to work, learn or contact in any way the outside world. Most probably as a result of their complaints about their lifestyle, the police decided to waive the protection measures imposed on them. There was no proper legal remedy for that decision.

Legal nonsense

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) emphasized in its statement to the minister of justice that the Act on Witness and Victim Protection does not give a witness or a victim any sufficient guarantees of legal protection. Those people are denied the right to effectively appeal in court the decision of not granting protection or other support, such as financial.

Instead, a witness or a victim may only apply to have their case reconsidered by the same body that issued the negative decision. Additionally, that application might not be considered at all if there are no new circumstances to the case.

"It is completely different than with the Act on Key Witnesses, which gives the right to appeal the protection to the public prosecutor," says Marcin Wolny, a lawyer for the HFHR. "This means that the key witnesses, who are usually repentant criminals, have more rights than the victims and regular witnesses."

Narrow range of protection

The problem with the Act on Witness and Victim Protection is the narrow range of protection measures that are available to those who are protected by the police. They cannot change their identity, nor may they undergo plastic surgery. This is contrary what is allowed under the Act on Key Witnesses. Moreover, the financial support that is granted to people under the Act on Witness and Victim Protection is arbitrary and depends only on the good will of the police chief considering the case.

"Besides, the victim and the witness are not granted any legal measures in a situation where they do not agree with the method of protection," says Marcin Wolny.

*the name has been changed for this story