UK Politician Believes News Organizations Should Hide Articles During Important Trials

from the where-theory-meets-reality-and-reality-laughs dept

A former Lord Chancellor in the UK (who was in charge of running the legal system, apparently) is suggesting that on certain important lawsuits, news organizations be forced not to report on the case and to remove any articles in archives that could influence the case, as he’s worried about the articles influencing the outcome. This, of course, is similar to the story we were discussing yesterday, where a California court forced Wikileaks offline so it wouldn’t influence a Swiss lawsuit. Of course, the response to that should be instructive of what would happen in the UK. Almost immediately, people started mirroring the content and making sure it was widely available. In fact, the very effort of trying to hide that content drove much more attention to it — something that should come as no surprise to those familiar with the Streisand Effect. Also, thanks to the internet, where anyone can effectively report on any topic, it’s impossible to see how the UK would successfully ban and block any reports on these particular cases. Sure, it’s nice in theory to say that you don’t want reporting that would influence the outcome of a case. Unfortunately, reality is unlikely to cooperate with that theory.

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Comments on “UK Politician Believes News Organizations Should Hide Articles During Important Trials”

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11 Comments
Bill W says:

Suject knowledge?

I’m no student of jurisprudence, heck I can barely spell it, but I recall that our (US) system was originally intended that the people on the jury know AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE about the subjects under trial rather than, as we have evolved, be as ignorant as possible. Yes, much of what is available might be wrong but that’s what “arguments” are for and witnesses, and such. The thinking man should be able to make as best a judgement as he possibly can but in our current system he (she) is “spoon fed” only what the litigants want him to know.

I really don’t think that’s the way it was done back in the day … are there any history folks out there that can tell me if I’m right or not?

Joe Smith says:

Prejudice

There is a real concern that information in the public media will influence the jury. Juries are supposed to decide cases based on the evidence in the court, not what they heard about the case on Nancy Grace or America’s Most Wanted.

We have elaborate laws deciding what is or is not admissible in a court, it makes no sense to allow all of the garbage on TV and the internet in by the back door.

It is over-reaching to try to pull old stories about a case but there is nothing wrong with suppressing reporting where the reporting would prejudice the right to a fair trial. The public’s right to be titillated does not out weigh the privacy rights of the victims or the accused’s right to a fair trial.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Prejudice

Moreover, if a decision is made with any inadmissible factors influencing it, it’s going to be at risk on appeal. The argument about suppressing previously reported content is flawed however; jury members could still go to a public library and go through archives of newspaper content. The internet just makes the process easier – it doesn’t make it possible in the first instance.

David says:

Sequester the Jury

Yes, a jury is supposed to decide a case based on the evidence presented in court and not what they hear about the case outside the courtroom. On the other hand one of the cornerstones of western civilization is freedom of speech. Censorship is never a good solution to a problem like this. Fortunately we have a tool to be used in such cases and it is not censorship. If you are worried that the media might influence the jury then sequester the jury, don’t censor the media.

PaulT (profile) says:

Presumed innocent?

The biggest problem I have with the tabloid-led press in the UK is the utter lack of commitment to the idea of the presumption of innocence. Many people have a kind of “trial by media” where in the months leading up to a trial, a person is splashed all over the front page essentially talking about them as if they were guilty.

It’s not so much the idea that a jury could be influenced that bothers me, it’s the fact that so many people have been dragged through the dirt when in fact, according to the eventual verdict, they are innocent of any crime. Yet, the pressure of the media coverage often breaks up families and relationship in the time when the accused needs them the most.

I’m not normally a fan of government intervention in free speech, but delaying such coverage until after the verdict is quite beneficial to all, IMHO.

JustMatt says:

So what is the standard?

Given that the statute of limitations is seven years for some crimes in the US should there be a ban for the full seven years? Given that some court cases can take a year or two should there be a ban for another couple of years?

Finally, and this is a personal opinion, I don’t trust lawyers (on either side of the aisle) and believe that many of them will intentionally suppress evidence if they think it helps their client. I want the news media to tell me about these types of things.

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