Why justice cannot be shrouded in secrecy

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Police officers can apply to give evidence in legal proceedings anonymously, only in certain circumstances.

However, there are growing concerns these types of applications are being made too often and in circumstances where some consider them to be inappropriate.

In a few months an inquest will be held into the death of 23-year-old Jordan Begley, who died shortly after being Tasered during his arrest by five police officers. These officers have applied to give evidence anonymously and Mr Begley’s family, the Independent Police Complaints Commission as well as the Press, are opposing this.

Unusually the police are using intelligence relating to an entirely unconnected case where officers shot and killed a suspect as one of the reasons the anonymity order is required. This intelligence indicates that in 2012 ‘villains’ offered a £50,000 reward to murder a Greater Manchester Police firearms officer and information has been provided as evidence to the coroner without any apparent grading of the perceived veracity of that claim.

If the anonymity order is granted in this case, the concern is this intelligence could be reused on any number of future occasions to prevent the naming of GMP firearms officers involved in cases where members of the public die after some form of contact with the police. Should that situation develop, it’s clearly unsatisfactory and against the principles of open justice.

In all but very occasional circumstances all police officers should be named when giving evidence in any judicial proceedings. There are exceptions for officers who conduct undercover or surveillance duties, as identifying them would mean they are unable to be deployed on such future duties and their identification may also disclose covert tactics which need to remain confidential.

Also, police officers involved in providing evidence against terrorists or the most dangerous criminals should have their identities protected, where there is a recognised threat to their safety and that of their families, especially where the officer is involved in the death of that person.

Granting anonymity to the officers involved in the death of Jordan Begley could be a step too far. Try and imagine how you would feel if you were a relative of Mr Begley, you would quite naturally want to know who the officers were.