Payments by media `put justice at risk'

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The Independent Online

Payment by the media of witnesses in court cases "could put justice at risk", three senior judges warned yesterday as they gave their reasons for refusing the serial killer Rosemary West leave to appeal.

Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, and two colleagues said: "In our view the whole issue of media payments to witnesses requires to be reviewed - whether they should be prohibited, or, if allowed, at what stage of criminal proceedings, and with what, if any, control. It is not for us to answer those questions." They said, however, that they did not believe the buying up of witnesses in the West case had affected the jury and added: "The evidence in its totality was overwhelming".

The judges' remarks are certain to be noted by those carrying out the investigation into cheque-book journalism ordered by the Lord Chancellor, after West was convicted last November of 10 murders.

Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, said he would study carefully the appeal judges' comments.

"In my speech to the House of Lords last December, I indicated that the best way forward was for there to be a protocol to the voluntary code of conduct of the press," he said.

"The newspaper and magazine publishing industry is now considering those proposals ... I believe it is very important that the progress we have made in the last year in self-regulation should be allowed to continue."