THE UK-based Ethical Journalism Network says the following about the importance of protecting sources: “Protection of sources is the essential benchmark of ethical journalism. It is critical to creating an environment for watchdog reporting. It encourages people working inside the machines of political or corporate power who can feel confident that if they blow the whistle on corruption they will not be victimised.”
But here’s what one of its editors says about the practice of anonymity: “Anonymity is a right which should be enjoyed by those who need it and should never be granted gratuitously to anyone who asks for it. People who may lose their job for whistleblowing; young children or women who are victims of violence and abuse and others who are vulnerable and at risk from exposure are obviously entitled to it. But anonymity is not a privilege to be enjoyed by people who are self-seeking and who benefit by personal gain through keeping their identity secret.”
A strapline on top of the main headline on a story in the Sunday Express this week says “Ruling opens floodgates for accused.” The main headline says “Eroding criminal trial process”. The story involved the decision last week in which high court judge Avason Quinlan-Williams, acting on a petition for judicial review, supported the legal proposition for the curtailment of a trial involving three men accused of the murder of three others, in an incident which took place in 2009.
The Sunday Express story, appearing as an “Analysis” of the issues involved, cited “legal minds” who saw Justice Quinlan-Williams’s decision as “an invitation which will encourage accused people to use this alternative outside of the criminal trial process.”
It says also, a few paragraphs down, that “the issue of a State witness changing testimony and admitting to being untruthful is nothing new and mechanisms are in place legally to deal with such, since reasons vary as to why State witnesses change their tune, yet the trial continues.”
Let’s tarry here awhile. The issue in question has nothing to do with a witness seeking to change his tune. This was a matter in which the lone witness for the prosecution who had tied the three accused to the murders, had the gumption to tell one of the prosecuting attorneys he had lied in doing so. He had never seen these men fleeing the scene of the crime, as he had testified, the basis on which the men were convicted to stand trial. He had no problem, he said, in maintaining that brass-facedness when the matter came to trial. He said he was doing it for the good of his community. There was, in this matter, no issue of “admissibility of inconsistent statements,” as referred to in the “analysis,” with the supposed support of the “legal minds”. The “legal minds” were allowed the privilege of anonymity to challenge the judge’s ruling in the judicial review. They should, in the first place, have had the courage of their convictions to allow themselves to be associated with the comments they made. It was, in the circumstances, a faceless attack on the professionalism of the lady judge. But this is merely symptomatic of the culture in which we continue to throw around anonymity without proper cause.
The essentials of this matter, from another angle, also have nothing to do with the accused. They were not the ones pleading innocence, and were therefore not the focus of the proceedings which were deliberated upon. The man who pointed them out had the misplaced nerve to tell one of the State’s attorneys of his lie and provided reason to back it up. He said he was preparing to say the same thing at the trial. He told the prosecuting attorney “your job is to ask questions and to get a conviction.” His, he said, was to do everything he could “for the good of the community which had been experiencing a lot of violence and shootings from warring factions of individuals.”
He was further angered when approached by one of the investigating officers who told him what the prosecuting attorneys had related to them from his confession of the lie. “I told (named called) something in private and I am surprised that he tell anybody. I never said I wasn’t going to court. I done say what I have to say.”
Compounding the troubling set of disclosures in this matter is the man’s disclosure of his role as a police informant. The implications of this, for the conduct of police investigations, and the proffering of charges against alleged suspects are stupefying, amplified by the prolonged climate of fear under which we have been living.
It also shines a light on the extent to which we can be assured that arrests of alleged suspects get counted as crimes having been “solved”.