HONGKONG'S ad hoc approach to witness protection could undergo radical changes, including individual threat assessment, witness disguise and the use of closed-circuit television in courts, if recommendations in a report are adopted. The South China Morning Post has obtained a copy of a confidential Fight Crime Committee report from an investigation which was prompted by complaints that existing procedures for safeguarding at risk witnesses were inadequate. It calls for the formal establishment of a witness protection programme, laying down procedures and conditions for providing protection for those who might jeopardise their safety, or that of their families, if they testified. It suggests assessments be conducted on each witness to determine if they are at risk, and if so, what level of protection is needed. High-level vetting and approval would be necessary before protection is guaranteed. At present, police only handle witnesses before and during trials, providing escort to courts and safe houses. Hongkong does not have set procedures. The report also proposes a formal undertaking of acceptance by both sides in a Memorandum of Understanding, which would be signed by the witness to show that he agreed with the conditions, obligations and benefits of the protection. However, a certificate of termination would be issued if a witness fails to comply with the conditions. For witnesses who refuse protection, they will be asked to sign a certificate of refusal. Among the innovative methods suggested by the report to cut down witnesses' exposure during court hearings, are: allowing witnesses to be disguised while giving evidence; placing them out of sight behind screens or, in extreme cases, permitting testimony from a separate room, or building, using closed-circuit television. These practices are already widely adopted in the United Kingdom, the United States and other jurisdictions, and therefore the report urges the authorities to enter into reciprocal arrangements with other countries to allow relocation of witnesses who are in extreme long-term danger. If the new measures prove effective, the report suggests they be adopted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Correctional Services Department and the Customs and Excise Department. A copy of the confidential report has been submitted to the head of the Commission of Inquiry into witness protection, Mr Justice Kempster, in the hope that some of its proposals will be included in his second and final report, due out on May 12. The appeal court judge was appointed by the Governor, Mr Chris Patten, following a bungled murder trial of a Vietnamese asylum seeker in which the principal crown witness, also Vietnamese, refused to testify because of insufficient protection, causing the case to collapse. In his first report, released more than two weeks ago, Mr Justice Kempster had already criticised the police and the Correctional Services and Legal departments for failing to provide sufficient protection to the key witness. His second report will look at the general protection system. Meanwhile, sources have revealed that police could allow a witness whose life is in great danger to adopt a dead person's identity to leave Hongkong without trace - an option already used by Special Branch to move undercover agents out of the territory. The drastic procedures to establish a way out of Hongkong for witnesses are believed to be an option that exists in principle but which has never been implemented. The Organised Crime and Triad Bureau is believed to be highly reluctant to exercise such power because it involves high-level approval.