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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Tasker's legacy lives on

Two police officers accused of misconduct in public office - they are alleged to have tried to avoid paying speeding fines - tried today to have their addresses withheld in court.

This has been tried many times in the past by defendants for all manner of reasons.

Most ask the court to place an order under S11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 - a banning order - preventing the publication of this detail.

One judge who resisted these orders and whose judgement is frequently cited by reporters in court fighting such orders, is the late, great, Sir Tasker Watkins.

When he sat in judgement on a request to place a S11 on a defendant's address in Rv Evesham Justices, ex p McDonagh [1988] QB 553, he said that S11 'was not enacted for the comfort and feelings of defendants.'

It is there to assist in the administration of justice, not as a shield behind which a defendant can hide. We have open courts and that means a defendant's name and address are given in open court.

Tasker is a hero of mine and literally a hero as well. When most of us were of an age to be barely starting our career, he was an officer commanding troops on the D-Day landings. He led bayonet charges through field raked by enemy gunfire, singlehandedly took on enemy machine gun posts and was awarded the Victoria Cross for actions which changed the course of a batte in which 10,000 enemy were killed and 50,000 captured.

Most would say he had done his bit then, but he came back to forge a career in the law which saw him become Deputy Lord Chief Justice and a stout defender of press freedom to openly report the courts.

Today's judgement shows that while Tasker may have passed away in 2007, the principles he maintained of open justice, still hold true.

And to cap it all, as if that's not reason enough to tip your hat to him, he was Welsh.

My thanks to Twitter followers @Ovidus and @davidelstone for pointing me in the direction of today''s case.

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