U-turn over witness anonymity refusal

Published Monday, 17 September 2012
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A High Court judge has overturned the decision to refuse anonymity to some police witnesses at an inquest into the shooting of an unarmed IRA man 20 years ago.

U-turn over witness anonymity refusal
Mr Jordan, 23, was shot dead by the RUC in 1992. (© Pacemaker)

Mr Justice Deeny ruled on Monday that the identities of the former RUC officers should remain secret to ensure their lives are protected.

He also rejected a separate bid by the family of Pearse Jordan to judicially review the granting of anonymity to six other police witnesses due to give evidence at the probe into his death.

Dealing with three officers refused anonymity and screen by the coroner, the judge said: "Given the security assessments in their case and given the background of a severe risk of terrorist attack in Northern Ireland I think it only requires a modest degree of additional vulnerability to conclude that Article 2 [right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights] is engaged in their case.

"I consider anonymity a relatively modest derogation in the circumstances and a step which the State is obliged to take to protect their lives.

"I not only quash the decision of the coroner, for the reasons above, in regard to those officers but I substitute the grant of anonymity to them."

Mr Jordan, 23, was shot dead by the RUC in disputed circumstances on the Falls Road, west Belfast in November 1992.

An examination into the circumstances surrounding his death, one of a series of alleged shoot-to-kill incidents, is due to get underway next week.

But before it opens Mr Justice Deeny heard separate legal challenges to the coroner's rulings on requests by police witnesses to remain unidentified.

As well as the judicial review case taken by the Jordan family, other officers whose identities were set to be made public sought to have the decision overturned.

The judge ruled in favour of the police witnesses on the basis of the right to life and a common law fairness point.

He held that the increased risk from not being screened was not imaginary.

"The inquest is to be held in public," he pointed out."There is nothing to stop terrorists or their adherents and supporters from sitting and listening, perhaps for hours, while an anonymous but unscreened officer gives evidence.

"There is a possibility, particularly if the officer lives in Northern Ireland, that one of a number of such malign observers in fact recognises an officer, particularly a retired officer from some economic or charitable endeavour with which he is involved.

"I am entirely satisfied that somebody who chooses to come and stare at an unscreened witness may well successfully remember his face for some future sinister purpose."

Although Mr Justice Deeny has now ruled on most of the cases, he is still to deliver a verdict in the case of the former RUC man who fired the fatal shots.

Known only as Officer A, the coroner had decided that he should be named at the inquest.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Peter in Armagh wrote (860 days ago):
RUC balaclava policing. They invented it, now it's endemic. Secret trials, anonymous witnesses giving evidence from behind screens, inquests stalled for 30 years, trial without a jury; welcome to the police state, 2012.
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