Irvine to ban witness payments

The Lord Chancellor is to crack down on newspaper payments made to witnesses in criminal cases, he announced yesterday.

Lord Irvine has pledged to introduce legislation to prohibit such chequebook journalism as soon as parliamentary time can be found for it. He cited the case of pop star Gary Glitter who was found not guilty of sexual abuse charges after it emerged that the main prosecution witness, Allison Brown stood to be paid £25,000 by the News of the World if Glitter was convicted.

There was a “real risk”, said Lord Irvine, that paying witnesses could encourage them to exaggerate their evidence to “make it more newsworthy” or hold something back to give the newspaper an exclusive. He said: “If the existence of a media contract emerges in court, juries may wonder if the witness's evidence has been affected by the contract.”

The Press Complaints Commission is currently investigating the News of the World payments to Allison Brown. If the Commission finds “justice has in any way prejudiced” by the payment, the Lord Chancellor said pledged to put the new law on a fast track.