Should we allow anonymous witnesses

  Forum Editor 00:25 22 Jun 2008

to give evidence in trials?

I find this interesting:

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  rdave13 00:42 22 Jun 2008

If supervised correctly then I think I agree with it. Identities of witnesses should be hidden if a murderous person is on trial.
Most likely the witnesses will be known by the offender but not to be able to pinpoint who actually gives the evidence means that no retribution can take place. Sounds a bit naive but will also make the justice system more responsible if any revenge actions takes place after conviction.

  Kemistri 00:45 22 Jun 2008

Clearly, there is a need in some exceptional circumstances, but I wonder whether it affects the ability of those present in court to assess the likely reliability of a witness in the usual way. Presumably, the anon witness's statement is read out and they cannot even be present for cross examination? If that is the case, then perhaps some degree of assurance could be provided by other means. What they must not do is allow more room for miscarriages of justice in an effort to get convictions. Though I'm sure that we would all like to see increased success in that respect.

  mrwoowoo 01:02 22 Jun 2008

Initially it seems a sensible idea, especially concerning young or vulnerable witnesses.
There may be a problem determining whether an anonymous witness has an ulterier motive to see the accused sentenced.
How would the posability of revenge, a grievence or personal gain be recognised with an annonymous witness.Maybe it would make it easier to set someone up as an obvious connection with the accused may be missed.
I'm on the fence at the moment.

  laurie53 08:23 22 Jun 2008

I think it is a necessary provision, but there must be very careful safeguards against abuse.

I think the individual final decision should be left to the judiciary and not the executive.

Like detention without trial, anonymous witnesses is a step on a very slippery slope.

  anskyber 08:58 22 Jun 2008

"Special measures are only used in the most extreme cases, which means these are our most dangerous criminals, people who have been jailed for up to 40 years. And they could be walking free."

Sums it up pretty well.

Instinctively I am uneasy about the opportunities which are offered to distort justice by using witness protection. I think I would feel happier if all such cases had an automatic review by the Law Lords, if the number of cases are so few then it should not be too burdensome.

  GANDALF <|:-)> 10:14 22 Jun 2008

So, you live on a sink housing estate where there are many gangs. There is also a culture of intimidation against those who 'grass' to Plod. You see a murder and give evidence without anonimity...I would give the witness 1 week before they were duffed up or worse. At best, their life would be made a misery for ever. These corpulent, half-wit law lords need to get off their lardy backsides and try and see life as it is, rather than viewed from their grand chambers.


  bremner 10:21 22 Jun 2008

"Presumably, the anon witness's statement is read out and they cannot even be present for cross examination?"

No that is not usually the case.

Witnesses will be present in court and will give their evidence from behind a screen. Their voice may be electronically distorted but they can be cross examined.

On occasion a witness may give evidence via a video/audio link but again can be cross examined.

It is a fact that many cases fail to even get to court because witnesses are so frightened of retribution they will not give evidence. Special measures has enabled some of the most violent (and often gang related) murderers to be convicted.

Is it ideal? No.
Is it necessary? Yes

  johndrew 10:33 22 Jun 2008

If we are to bring some of the most evil people to justice then we have a need to use means of showing the court what they have done - this can only be supported by eye witnesses.

Given that this same element of society will go to any ends to cover their misdeeds, it is only reasonable to protect those who put themselves at risk to aid justice. It is not beyond imagination that some of these miscreants would threaten all elements of a court in which case perhaps there is also a need for the whole court to be protected in this way.

As bremner says above, "Is it ideal? No. Is it necessary? Yes"

  lofty29 10:47 22 Jun 2008

Of course the ideal of the witnesses having to face the accused person is the ideal situation, but it cannot be denied that persecution will happen in a number of cases, along with attempts to pervert juries, with proper safeguards the course of justice can only be maintained is some leeway is given. Let us remember that at the moment the defence in general has a much easier job than the prosecution.

  spuds 11:00 22 Jun 2008

"Should we allow anonymous witnesses". Most definitely, providing the evidence of the witness can be investigated to the point that in all possibilities it can be proven correct, and not just something for corrupt vengeance as the prime mover.

But, and its a very big but.

If anonymity of a witness is given and provided with guarantees, then this is fine, but at todays and previous levels, no guarantees can be 100%, and the witness could have problems throughout their future lives.

I know of at least two cases (there are more) that 'anonymous' witnesses were subject to later events, those events made a mockery of the whole issue. One incident was the stabbing (not fatal but very nearly) of a youth, and there was many observers. Due to the nature of the stabbing, it was a case of the three wise monkey syndrome. Later people came forward, and promised help in providing evidence on consideration that their input and information provided was treated as 'highly confidential' due to fear of the main culprits involved. Some of the witnesses were 'contacted' (assuming) by friends or colleagues of the suspected culprits, which resulted in the case being withdrawn and place on file. The culprits have never been charged with that incident, but have since been convicted for other affrays.

In the second case. Two totally innocent witnesses saw a brutal beating, stabbing and shooting of a youth. They provided evidence on the agreement that they would not be identified, if the case went to court. The case did go to court, and prison sentences were given to those responsible for the killing. The only problem here, was the CPS, judicatory and police had given sureties to the witnesses, which fell apart within the actual court hearing. The witnesses details were given and published. This incident led to further repercussions at a later stage.

I suppose taking it a step further, you only have to look at events in Iraq, on how local Iraqi interpretors are being treated, after promises of protection and safeguards.

Becoming an anonymous can have consequences, perhap!.

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