The defendant had been tried for the murder of two men by shooting them at a party. He was identified as the murderer by three witnesses who had been permitted to give evidence anonymously, from behind screens, because they had refused, out of fear, to testify should their identities be disclosed. He now said that this infringed his right to a fair trial. He said that the witnesses could only have said what they did at the behest of a former girlfriend. The means of trial had severely limited his ability to run that defence.
Held: It is a long-established principle of the English common law that, subject to certain exceptions and statutory qualifications, the defendant in a criminal trial should be confronted by his accusers in order that he may cross-examine them and challenge their evidence. Though such means might be used in some cases, in this case they so encumbered the defence as to make a fair trial not possible. The appeal succeeded.
Lord Carswell said: ‘As a general rule it is unlikely that the trial will be fair if a very substantial degree of anonymising of evidence is permitted where the testimony of the witnesses concerned constitutes the sole or decisive evidence implicating the defendant’ save that this may not be the case where the defendant is responsible for the intimidation.
Lord Mance explored the human rights and international cases before concluding that: ‘I do not believe that the Strasbourg Court would accept that the use of anonymous evidence in the present case satisfied the requirements of article 6. Not only was the evidence on any view the sole or decisive basis on which alone the defendant could have been convicted, but effective cross-examination in the present case depended upon investigating the potential motives for the three witnesses giving what the defence maintained was a lying and presumably conspiratorial account. Cross-examination was hampered by the witnesses’ anonymity, by the mechanical distortion of their voices and by their giving evidence from behind screens, so that the appellant (and, since he was not prepared to put himself in a position where he had information that his client did not, his counsel) could not see the witnesses. ‘ and ‘I have been persuaded that any further relaxation of the basic common law rule, requiring witnesses on issues in dispute to be identified and cross-examined with knowledge of their identity and permitting the defence to know and put to witnesses otherwise admissible and relevant questions about their identity, is one for Parliament to endorse and delimit and not for the courts to create.’
Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood discussed the proposal to allow witnesses to give evidence anonymously: ‘If . . the government now think it right to legislate in this field, so be it. Meantime, however, the creeping emasculation of common law principles must be not only halted but reversed. It is the integrity of the judicial process that is at stake here. This must be safeguarded and vindicated whatever the cost.’
Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Carswell, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, Lord Mance
 UKHL 36,  3 All ER 461, Times 19-Jun-2008,  1 AC 1128,  HRLR 35,  3 WLR 125,  2 Cr App R 33,  Crim LR 915
England and Wales
Appeal from – Regina v Davis (Iain); Regina v Ellis, Regina v Gregory, Regina v Simms, Regina v Martin CACD 19-May-2006
The several defendants complained at the use at their trials of evidence given anonymously. The perceived need for anonymity arose because, from intimidation, the witnesses would not be willing to give their evidence without it.
Held: The . .
Cited – Duke of Dorset v Serjeant Girdler 1720
A man who is in possession of a fishery, may bring a bill to examine his witnesses in perpetuam rei memoriam, and establish his right, though he has not recovered in affirmance of it at law ; secus, if he is not in possession. In a civil trial: ‘the . .
Cited – Attorney-General v Butterworth CA 1962
The court considered the penalisation of a witness who had given evidence in contempt of the court.
It would be a contempt for someone to threaten or interfere with a witness in order to deter them from giving evidence or in order to persuade . .
Cited – Attorney-General v Leveller Magazine Ltd HL 1-Feb-1979
The appellants were magazines and journalists who published, after committal proceedings, the name of a witness, a member of the security services, who had been referred to as Colonel B during the hearing. An order had been made for his name not to . .
Cited – Regina v Socialist Worker Printers and Publishers Ltd, Ex parte Attorney-General CA 1974
In a blackmail case, the court ordered non publication of the names of the complainants. Thinking they were not bound, the defendants published the names.
Held: The publishers and Mr Michael Foot were held to be in contempt of court in . .
Cited – Regina v Murphy and Another CANI 1990
The two defendants were tried for the murder of two British Army corporals. The prosecution adduced the evidence of a number of television journalists who, in the course of their work, had filmed the scene of the killing. The judge gave leave that . .
Cited – Scott v Scott HL 5-May-1913
Presumption in Favour of Open Proceedings
There had been an unauthorised dissemination by the petitioner to third parties of the official shorthand writer’s notes of a nullity suit which had been heard in camera. An application was made for a committal for contempt.
Held: The House . .
Cited – Regina v X, Y and Z; Regina v DJX, SCY and GCZ CACD 1989
The court upheld the decision of the Common Sergeant, sitting at the Central Criminal Court, that screens should be erected to enable children who had been treated indecently to give evidence screened from the defendant. The judge was required to . .
Cited – Regina v HM Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and Another Ex Parte Devine, Same Ex Parte Breslin HL 1-Apr-1992
The Coroner had held an inquest into the deaths of three persons who had been shot by soldiers. The Coroner had admitted statements made by the soldiers under Rule 17 of the Northern Ireland Rules. Those statements had been produced in evidence by . .
Cited – Regina v Brindle and Brindle CCC 31-Mar-1992
The court permitted three witnesses to give evidence anonymously in a murder trial, even though this would impose ‘some inhibition on the full and proper presentation of the defence’ but holding that ‘if the wider interests of justice make it . .
Cited – Regina v Watford Magistrates Court ex parte Lenman QBD 1993
Youths were accused of a violent disorder in the cenre of Watford. Witnesses feared for their safety and made statements to the police under pseudonyms, and at the committal hearing application was made that they give evidence under these . .
Cited – Grant v The Queen PC 16-Jan-2006
(Jamaica) The defendant appealed his conviction for murder saying that the admission of an unsworn statement by one witness and the non-admission of another similar statement who did not either attend court was unconstitutional. He shot the victim . .
Cited – Kostovski v The Netherlands ECHR 20-Nov-1989
No Anonymity for Witnessses in Criminal Trial
K was convicted of armed robbery on the basis of statements of anonymous witnesses. He was unable to question those witnesses at any stage. Being unaware of the identity of the witnesses deprived K of the very particulars which would have enabled . .
Cited – Al-Khawaja v Regina CACD 3-Nov-2005
The defendant had been tried for indecent assaults. The complainant having died before the trial, the judge had ruled that her written statements were admissible. The defendant said he had not had a fair trial.
Held: The appeal failed. The . .
Cited – Sellick and Sellick, Regina v CACD 14-Mar-2005
The defendants appealed convictions for murder saying that the court had had read to it the statements of four witnesses who refused to attend for fear, having been intimidated. Other witnesses had been unco-operative and had been treated by the . .
Cited – D (A Minor), Regina (on the Application of) v Camberwell Green Youth Court HL 27-Jan-2005
The defendant challenged the obligatory requirement that evidence given by a person under 17 in sex or violent offence cases must normally be given by video link.
Held: The purpose of the section was to improve the quality of the evidence . .
Cited – Doherty (suing as personal representative of Daniel Doherty deceased) v Ministry of Defence CANI 5-Feb-1991
In a civil action against army personnel, the defendant ministry applied that military witnesses should be screened while giving evidence so as to protect their identities. They were also to be identified by letters, not names, but the claimant . .
Cited – Regina v North Humberside and Scunthorpe Coroner ex parte Jamieson QBD 12-Jul-1993
A prisoner had hanged himself after being left unsupervised in a single cell. He was a known suicide risk, but the Coroner directed the jury not to return a verdict which included any reference to lack of care.
Held: A coroner was free not to . .
Cited – Regina v Taylor and Crabb CACD 22-Jul-1994
The defendants had stood trial at the Central Criminal Court for murder. At the trial a witness anonymised as Miss A was allowed to give evidence anonymously, without revealing her address, behind a screen so arranged that she, the judge, jury and . .
Cited – In Re Khalid Al-Fawwaz (Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus) (on Appeal From a Divisional Court of the Queen’s Bench Division) HL 17-Dec-2001
The fact that a crime for which extradition was sought was extra-territorial one to the country making the request, was not enough to counter the application. The schedule required the person to be ‘accused or have been convicted of an extradition . .
Cited – Regina v Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, Ex parte Director of Public Prosecutions QBD 1996
An order was made by a stipendiary magistrate hearing committal proceedings in a drugs case. By his order he had ruled that under-cover officers, although permitted to give evidence shielding their faces from the public in court, should not be . .
Cited – Coles v Odhams Press Ltd 1936
Lord Hewart CJ said that courts should avoid ‘taking blind shots at a hidden target’. . .
Cited – Connelly v Director of Public Prosecutions HL 1964
Plea of Autrefois Acquit is Narrow in Scope
The defendant had been tried for and acquitted of murder. The prosecution then sought to have him tried for robbery out of the same alleged facts. The House considered his plea of autrefois convict.
Held: The majority identified a narrow . .
Cited – Krasniki v The Czech Republic ECHR 28-Feb-2006
Cited – Van Mechelen And Others v The Netherlands ECHR 23-Apr-1997
A Dutch court had convicted the applicants of attempted manslaughter and robbery on the basis of statements made, before their trial, by anonymous police officers, none of whom gave evidence before the Regional Court or the investigating judge. The . .
Cited – Doorson v The Netherlands ECHR 26-Mar-1996
Evidence was given in criminal trials by anonymous witnesses and evidence was also read as a result of a witness having appeared at the trial but then absconded. The defendant was convicted of drug trafficking. As regards the anonymous witnesses, . .
Cited – Luca v Italy ECHR 27-Feb-2001
The accused had been convicted. After exercising his right to silence, there were read to the court accounts of statements made by co-accused but without an opportunity for him to cross examine the witnesses.
Held: Saunders had established the . .
Cited – Regina v Arnold CACD 21-May-2004
The defendant appealed a conviction after the non attendance of a witness.
Held: The court was prepared to assume that the witness had not been kept away by fear, but ruled that the statement was admissible. However: ‘We cannot leave this case . .
Cited – Lord Morley’s case 1666
The court permitted the reading at trial of a statement by a witness who had been deposed before a coroner but who was absent at trial after being detained by the means or procurement of the defendant incriminated by the statement. . .
Cited – Regina v KJ Martin CACD 20-Feb-2003
The defendant had been found unfit to plead on a charge of murder. Charges against the co-defendants were later reduced to inflicting grievous bodily harm, but when the defendant came to be dealt with, it was on the basis that the charge remained . .
Cited – Rex v Smellie CCA 1919
The defendant was accused of mistreating his eleven year old daughter. He was ordered to sit upon the stairs leading to the dock, out of her sight, in order to avoid her being intimidated.
Held: A judge could, using the courts own powers to . .
Cited – Birutis And Others v Lithuania ECHR 28-Mar-2002
The court considered the conviction of the applicant on the basis of anonymous statements which were not tested by examination at trial.
Held: The Court criticised the means adopted by the authorities ‘in handling the anonymous evidence’. . .
Cited – Asch v Austria ECHR 26-Apr-1991
There was no violation of Article 6 where the statement of a co-habitee was read at the trial without her being called to give evidence but, in Austrian law, a co-habitee cannot be compelled to be a witness and the court said that the right on which . .
Cited – Ludi v Switzerland ECHR 15-Jun-1992
The claimant challenged his conviction of a drug trafficking offence. The evidence against him consisted mainly of a report by an anonymous undercover agent and transcripts of telephone intercepts of calls between the agent and the applicant. . .
Cited – Visser v The Netherlands ECHR 14-Feb-2002
The applicant alleged that in criminal proceedings against him, there was used in evidence a statement from an anonymous witness, and his defence rights had been unacceptably restricted in breach of Article 6. The police said that witnesses were . .
Cited – PS v Germany ECHR 20-Dec-2001
The applicant had been convicted of sexual abuse of a child. The evidence against him consisted of a statement made by the child’s mother about what her daughter had told her, and evidence by a police officer who had questioned the daughter shortly . .
Cited – Kok v The Netherlands ECHR 1999
Following a police raid leading to the discovery of a cache of arms, the police took a statement from an anonymous witness as to the delivery of the arms to the house (though the precise date of delivery was withheld). The investigating judge heard . .
Cited – In re Officer L HL 31-Jul-2007
Police officers appealed against refusal of orders protecting their anonymity when called to appear before the Robert Hamill Inquiry.
Held: ‘The tribunal accordingly approached the matter properly under article 2 in seeking to ascertain . .
Cited – Haddock v MGN Ltd and others ChNI 17-Oct-2008
Application for injunction to prevent the defendant newspapers and television companies from publishing the plaintiff’s picture in the course of a forthcoming civil action. He was coming toward the end of a long term of imprisonment. Whilst on . .
Cited – Al Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others QBD 18-Nov-2009
The claimants sought damages from the defendants saying that they had been held and ill treated at various detention centres by foreign authorities, but with the involvement of the defendants. The defendants sought to bring evidence before the court . .
Cited – Horncastle and Others, Regina v SC 9-Dec-2009
Each defendant said they had not received a fair trial in that the court had admitted written evidence of a witness he had not been allowed to challenge. The witnesses had been victims, two of whom had died before trial. It was suggested that the . .
Cited – Al Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others CA 4-May-2010
Each claimant had been captured and mistreated by the US government, and claimed the involvement in and responsibility for that mistreatment by the respondents. The court was asked whether a court in England and Wales, in the absence of statutory . .
Cited – Al Rawi and Others v The Security Service and Others SC 13-Jul-2011
The claimant pursued a civil claim for damages, alleging complicity of the respondent in his torture whilst in the custody of foreign powers. The respondent sought that certain materials be available to the court alone and not to the claimant or the . .
Cited – Al-Khawaja v The United Kingdom; Tahery v The United Kingdom ECHR 15-Dec-2011
(Grand Chamber) The claimants complained of the use against them of hearsay evidence in their trials.
Held: ‘the underlying principle is that the defendant in a criminal trial should have an effective opportunity to challenge the evidence . .
Cited – Adeojo and Another v Regina CACD 6-Feb-2013
The defendants appealed against their convictions for murder saying that the court should not have relied upon hearsay evidence. A witness had refused to give evidence, but his earlier evidnece was used.
Held: The appeals failed. The judge had . .
Cited – British Sky Broadcasting Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v The Central Criminal Court and Another Admn 21-Dec-2011
The claimant challenged a production order made by the magistrates in respect of journalists’ material. They complained that the application had used secret evidence not disclosed to it, and that the judge had not given adequate reasons to support . .
Cited – British Sky Broadcasting Ltd, Regina (on The Application of) v The Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis SC 12-Mar-2014
The court was asked as to the powers of Magistrates hearing an application for a search warrant to receive excluded or special procedure material which had not been disclosed to the respondent. The court had overturned an order made by the district . .
Cited – VB and Others v Westminster Magistrates SC 5-Nov-2014
Extraditions to follow normal open justice rules
Application was made by Rwanda for the extradition of four individuals to face crimes said to have been committed during their civil war. Witnesses were prepared to give evidence but only in private and not being seen by the representatives of . .
Cited – Haralambous, Regina (on The Application of) v Crown Court at St Albans and Another SC 24-Jan-2018
The appellant challenged by review the use of closed material first in the issue of a search warrant, and subsequently to justify the retention of materials removed during the search.
Held: The appeal failed. No express statutory justification . .
Cited – Belhaj and Another v Director of Public Prosecutions and Another SC 4-Jul-2018
Challenge to decision not to prosecute senior Intelligence Service officials for alleged offences in connection with his unlawful rendition and mistreatment in Libya. The issue here was whether on the hearing of the application for judicial review, . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Criminal Practice, Human Rights
Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.269987