Wednesday 22 January 2020

'Invisible' defendant makes UK legal history

Gordon Rayner

JAMES Bulger's killer became the first defendant in British legal history to be "invisible" in court after a ruling made by a judge at a secret hearing last week.

Mr Justice Bean ruled that Jon Venables could appear via a video link from the prison where he is being held, but decided that he should only be visible to the judge himself.

It meant that while Mr Justice Bean could see Venables on a screen in front of him, others in court -- including lawyers, journalists and James Bulger's mother -- could only hear his voice.

Media organisations challenged the unprecedented ruling before yesterday's hearing after discovering that an order had been made behind closed doors on Wednesday.

Anthony Hudson, for the media, said that it was "profoundly concerning" that the judge had made an order in private, and argued that under accepted precedent the defendant should be "visible to the court".

Edward Fitzgerald, for Venables, argued that the risk of Venables' new identity being compromised if he appeared on court television monitors was so great that only the judge should see him.

The judge turned down the application by Mr Hudson, saying: "It's not necessary for anyone other than me to be able to see the defendant."

"It would be possible for the proceedings to be held in the absence of Mr Venables ... and there is a considerable risk to Mr Venables' life if his identity becomes public."

Venables is one of only four convicted criminals whose identity is protected by a High Court order.

Apart from his accomplice Robert Thompson, the others are the child killer Mary Bell and Maxine Carr, who helped Ian Huntley to cover up the Soham murders.

Sunday Independent

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