UK legislation allowing anonymous witnesses passed by parliament

[JURIST] The UK parliament [official website] approved [debate text] legislation Wednesday that would allow the use of testimony from anonymous witnesses at criminal trials. The Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008 [text, PDF; parliament backgrounder] was introduced [JURIST report] last month by UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw [official profile] as an emergency measure following the Law Lords [government backgrounder, PDF] ruling in Regina v. Davis [PDF text], which challenged the recently adopted judicial practice of permitting anonymous witnesses in specific cases. According to a statement [text] by the Ministry of Justice [official website]:

[The Bill] makes provision for any party to criminal proceedings to apply for a witness anonymity order, so either the prosecution or a defendant may apply, [it] sets out the conditions which must be satisfied before a court can make a witness anonymity order and the considerations the court must have regard to when deciding whether to make an order, [it] sets out an indicative list of the kinds of special measures that the courts may apply in order to protect the identity of an anonymous witness, for example, the use of screens and voice distortion, [and it] makes transitional provisions in respect of the trials under way when the Act comes into force and in respect of the hearing of appeals against convictions secured on the basis of anonymous evidence before the passing of the Act.
The bill passed the House of Commons on July 8. An amended version passed the House of Lords Wednesday and was then approved by the full Parliament. It must now receive royal approval before becoming law. BBC News has more.

The approval came after a judge suspended a murder trial [AP report] last month because the jury had heard testimony from anonymous witnesses. At the same time the office of Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] commented [press briefing] that the ruling in Davis "was something we were looking at urgently, including looking at whether or not we could change the law." Prime Minister Brown then announced [Guardian report] that the government was going to push the legislation, which must conform to the Human Rights Act [text].

 

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