Thursday, December 21, 2006

Trial by media

Recent press coverage of the Ipswich muder case gives real cause for concern. Given the amount of material which has been published about each of the two men arrested, it would seem near impossible that any potential trial would not be prejudiced. Newspapers may answer that much of the material may be already available on internet sites and blogs. However, this is no reason to turn a blind eye to the consequences of their own actions.

Another aspect of these cases is that the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which applies here is policed by the Attorney General. At the very least one has to question why he has not yet intervened in the face of what looks like almost blatant breaches of the Act. Without any explanation, it will leave others to conclude that there be other factors at play such as the fact that he is already under pressure for having dropped an investigation into fraud allegations against the Saudis and that he will be under even closer scrutiny when it comes to making a decision on whether prosecutions should be pursued in the cash for honours cases.

As well damaging any potential defendant's right to a fair trial, this coverage will also have destroyed the life of a potentially innocent man. If neither or both of these men were actually involved, then at least one innocent man will have wrongly been found guilty in the court of media innuendo and that of public opinion which follows in its wake. If trial by media continues to undermine due process, defendants may be well advised to turn to PR advisers rather than lawyers for the best advice.

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