UK seeks permission of anonymous witness testimony

[JURIST] UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw [official profile] Tuesday held emergency meetings with members of Parliament to discuss possible legislation that would expressly allow anonymous witnesses to testify at some trials.  The recently adopted judicial practice was challenged last week by a Law Lords [government backgrounder, PDF] ruling [Regina v. Davis text, PDF] that it may deny defendants' right to meaningfully challenge the witnesses against them. The judges said that Parliament, rather than the courts, was best suited to balance the rights of the accused with the safety of witnesses:

In these circumstances, while I am very conscious of the problems confronting the authorities which have led them to adopt these measures, in my view it is not open to this House in its judicial capacity to make such a far-reaching inroad into the common law rights of a defendant as would be involved in endorsing the procedure adopted in the present case.
In his meetings with MPs Tuesday, Straw began negotiations in line with the judges' ruling for legislation to allow the use of anonymous witnesses. The Guardian has more. TheTimes has additional coverage.

The office of Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] commented [press briefing] Tuesday that the ruling "was something we were looking at urgently, including looking at whether or not we could change the law." A ruling in the first of as many as 600 potentially affected cases also came Tuesday, when a judge suspended a murder trial [AP report] because the jury had heard testimony from anonymous witnesses. Prime Minister Brown announced [Guardian report] Wednesday that the government would try to push the legislation, which must conform to the Human Rights Act [text], hoping to get it through Parliament by the end of next week. 


 

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