Friday, June 27, 2008

Straw wrong on witness anonymity

Also worth reading in this morning's Times is David Pannick's forensic analysis of the government's position on witness anonymity at criminal trials: Witness intimidation: Judges won't be cowed into denying a fair trial

"The House of Lords decided that common law prohibited the use of such anonymous evidence because it prevented the defendant from being able to challenge in cross-examination whether the witnesses had a motive for lying or exaggerating...Mr Straw said on Wednesday that “there is a difficult balance to strike here, between giving witnesses who fear for their safety the confidence to give evidence in court and ensuring that innocent people are not convicted”.

He is wrong. There is no such balance. The law lords have repeatedly explained that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights confers an absolute right to a fair trial, which cannot be balanced against other considerations, even in relation to measures taken to protect society against terrorism.

The Justice Secretary and Parliament are bound by the UK's international obligations in this respect. Those echo and were strongly influenced by the common law traditions of our legal system"

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