New witness intimidation law may fail to impress the judges, warns top lawyer

Jack Straw’s new law to protect witnesses from intimidation being rushed through Parliament from next week will fail to make any impact on the judges, warns leading QC and legal commentator David Pannick. Pannick’s pronouncements almost amount to law in themselves and he speaks with authority. He writes with utter certainty about this. Some local readers may smile at his reference to the Northern Ireland courts’ reluctance to admit anonymous evidence, despite paramilitary intimidation. If Pannick is correct, scores of cases in the pipeline may still have to be dropped and a very awkward confrontation between the government and the courts may well ensue. The new Act will apply to Northern Ireland. I wonder what the Assembly would have done in response to the Lords’ ruling if justice powers had already been devolved? And what if any, would have been the effect on the status of Edward Gillen’s evidence in the McCartney murder trial, and on any future similar evidence?
Update

The Times reports that the lynching of the two army cooks at the Death on the Rock funerals in 1988, was the first in the line of cases involving anonymous evidence that gave rise to the Lords’ ruling and the emergency legislation

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London