“Parliament should never legislate at the speed at which I am proposing unless it is convinced that there are overwhelming reasons for doing so, but I suggest to the House that this requirement is satisfied in this case. Anonymous evidence is these days fundamental to the successful prosecution of a significant number of cases, some of which involve murder, blackmail, violent disorder and terrorism. Such cases could be jeopardized if we do not quickly fill the gap created by their lordships’ judgment” . These are the words of Jack Straw who was the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. The House of Commons was discussing the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008. These discussions were based on the ruling which had been passed in the case of R v Davis . There is a basic common law principle that an accused should be given a chance to confront his accuser whom he should always know .
Due to emergence of advanced crimes, there has been an increased use in necessary protection measures which have even gone outside the statutory scope in order to protect vulnerable witnesses. The introduction of witness protection has come with its challenges. Like in the case of R v Davis the contentious issue that arose was whether the introduction of witness protection would affect the defense and hence interfere with the rights of the accused. In the case their Lordships agreed that the defense had been curtailed and that the conviction was unsafe. This common law principle is only qualified with a few exceptions which are to be expressly stated in a statute. In reaction to the challenges that faced the R v Davis, parliament went ahead and enacted the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008 and afterwards the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 which repealed the Criminal Evidence Act 2008. It was until the year 2010 that the witness anonymity section came into full force .
According to the Act, the prosecution is entitled to apply for witness anonymity measures . The Act also sets out some conditions that the court should satisfy before allowing such measures; according to section 88 the conditions the safety of the witness, trial fairness and public interest. To mitigate the harshness of R v Davis, section 89 sets out the considerations that the court must put in mind. This relates to credibility, motive and background of witness, the importance or weight of his or her evidence and if the defendant will be in a position to test the evidence.
The issue of witness anonymity is not as straight forward as it seem, this is witnessed in the words of Lord Huth of Kings Heath (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice; Labor), who alleges that there has been raising concern on the criminals to intimidate the witnesses in order to escape punishment. He further goes ahead to note that this practice is common in crimes that involve guns, drugs and armed gangs. Such is the fear that is inflicted on the witnesses or the...