Uproar In Britain After Court Ruling 20 Years Ago

Published: Tue 15 Jul 2008 02:15 PM
Judicial Uproar In Britain Following New Zealand Court Ruling 20 Years Ago
LawFuel - The Law Jobs and News Wire
A New Zealand Court of Appeal decision on anonymous evidence from undercover policemen has created legal mayhem in the United Kingdom, with rushed legislation being used to preserve several hundred trials at risk from a House of Lords decision.
The House of Lords decision resulted in the quashing of a conviction of a man charged with an East End double murder.
The decision to quash the double murder conviction resulted in Britain’s Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, pushing through emergency legisation to avoid criminals walking free following the law lords’ decision.
The first casualty of the ruling was a £6 million pound Old Bailey criminal trial but with dozens of other trials also threatened by the ruling.
The Old Bailey trial of two men accused of shooting east London businessman Charles Butler was stopped after lawyers considered the Law Lords' decision. The £6m-trial, which was nearing the end of the prosecution case and was the culmination of a multimillion-pound four-year inquiry into the shooting and alleged police corruption. The jury was discharged after two months of hearing evidence with four witnesses having given evidence under false names and from behind screens.
The House of Lords decision resulted in a political uproar with claims that judges were getting too much power and that the ruling threatened the very security of Britain.
The Justice Secretary Jack Straw said that it was a matter of balancing the right of defendants to know who is giving evidence against them and the need to protect the community."On one hand everybody must expect the right to a fair trial, on the other, there are these awful cases involving guns, gangs, drugs and knives where witnesses are terrorised. "We have to correct that."
The trial that started the uproar, relating to Iain Davis’ double murder conviction, was presented with a 1986 New Zealand Court of Appeal decision from Sir Ivor Richardson, who said in respect of anonymous witnesses: “The right to confront an adverse witness is basic to any civilised notion of a fair trial. That must include the right for the defence to ascertain the true identity of an accuser where questions of crebility may be an issue.”
In his ruling, Lord Bingham, who headed the panel of judges, said that the conviction could have been achieved without anonymity, but that anonymity had "hampered the defence" in a way which was unlawful and rendered the trial unfair.
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