Witness protection program in accordance with the Convention

In the case of A and B v. Romania (application no. 48442/16, 02.06.2020) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been no violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The case concerned the applicants’ complaint about the protection provided for them as witnesses in a corruption case. In August 2015 the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office attached to the High Court of Cassation and Justice declared the applicants “threatened witnesses”: they had worked for C, who, along with another senior official, D, was being investigated for alleged acts of corruption. The applicants were believed to have witnessed suspect transactions between C and D.

The Court found in particular that the authorities had recognised that the applicants had faced a threat to their lives. However, it had taken some time – a year and four months – to formally include them in the witness protection programme. Nevertheless, they had not been left without protection during that time, even if, at least at the beginning, it had been mostly improvised, given a lack of regulations, which had only become applicable in July 2016. The resulting deficiencies had been corrected by the authorities. 

While the Court accepted that such a situation had contributed to the escalation of the conflicts and mistrust between the applicants and the police, they did not, however, justify the applicants’ provocative behaviour and disregard of their own responsibilities towards their protection. The applicants had been fully aware of their duty to cooperate with the authorities, which had been set out by law and included in the protection protocols, which they had eventually signed. In practice, they had repeatedly failed to comply with their obligations and breached the protocols

The applicants had been uncooperative and had very often exhibited inappropriate behaviour towards the police officers. The Court, commending the authorities for their efforts to continue protecting the applicants despite their lack of cooperation, concluded by finding that they had done all that could reasonably have been expected of them in the circumstances to protect the applicants from threat. The applicants had had a presence on social media and television, which had risked compromising their protected witness status. The applicants had also refused an offer of relocation within Romania, while the HCCJ had dismissed their request to have their identities changed and be relocated abroad after careful examination and providing reasons.

The Court considered that the authorities had done what could reasonably have been expected of them to protect the applicants from the alleged risk to their lives. They had thus complied with the requirements of Article 2 of the Convention and there had been no violation of that provision.

References from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights