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False statements, liquidations, lawyers pulling out. Is the crown witness scheme worth the risk?

Law firm Ficq & Partners has pulled out of the Marengo trial in the Netherlands. It claims that the use of a crown witness entails ‘unmanageable risk’. Do the advantages of the crown witness scheme outweigh the risks? Jan Crijns takes stock in Dutch newspaper ‘Trouw’.

The system whereby crown witnesses collaborate with justice has once again been under fire ever since Nabil B. was used as a crown witness back in 2018. After Nabil B. came forward as a crown witness in exchange for a reduced sentence, three people in his immediate vicinity were murdered. Lawyers at Ficq & Partners believe the crown witness scheme (known in Dutch as the kroongetuigeregeling) is flawed and for this reason they have decided to no longer assist clients in the Marengo appeal proceedings (Trouw).

An ongoing controversy

Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure and Vice Dean of Leiden Law School Jan Crijns says that the scheme has always been controversial: ‘But each time, the discussion focuses on different aspects. First of all, it was mainly about whether we want to use criminals to catch criminals. Should the government lower itself to enlisting the help the criminal world? Is it ethical to reduce a person’s sentence if they have also committed a crime? Now, security risks dominate the debate.’ 

Rarely used

Crijns estimates that since the scheme was first introduced back in the 1990s, around ten to fifteen crown witnesses have been used in trials. And so it is rarely used. Previous research conducted by Leiden University has shown that the scheme only benefits those accused of more serious crimes.

No silver bullet

Crijns summarises the varying views on this issue as follows: ‘The Public Prosecution Service and the Minister [of Justice and Security, ed.] often present the crown witness scheme as some kind of silver bullet; lawyers are far less enthusiastic. And academics are somewhere in the middle. It’s certainly no silver bullet. That said, if it’s properly arranged, it could be helpful in some cases. For example, in the ‘Passageproces’ [a trial involving gangland killings between 1993 and 2006, ed.], around ten people were convicted and some received life sentences.’

More information

Read the full article (in Dutch) in Trouw

Photo through Unsplash

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