Say That Again

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
banning, censorship, news, trials

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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • identicon
    Bill W, 19 Feb 2008 @ 1:46pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joe Smith, 19 Feb 2008 @ 2:26pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2008 @ 2:51pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Woadan, 19 Feb 2008 @ 2:34pm

    Justice for money, bow much can I pay?

    I'd be for keeping things out of the way if each side could spend the same amount in the pursuit of justice.

    We know that verdicts are often based on who spent the most money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 19 Feb 2008 @ 2:47pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 19 Feb 2008 @ 4:36pm

    Not so new

    This sort of thing has recently happened in New Zealand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Feb 2008 @ 12:16am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sean, 20 Feb 2008 @ 1:38am

    Lord Chancellor

    He's the guy in charge of the courts and judges, not the guy in charge of the legal system, and he technically outranks the Prime Minister.

    The new Justice Ministry is in charge of the legal system.

    You could have looked it up in Wikipedia...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JustMatt, 20 Feb 2008 @ 5:41am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Feb 2008 @ 10:13am

    I have a feeling that an article in USA Today or the Guardian would reach and influence a few more people than an article posted on a blog.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Robert, 21 Feb 2008 @ 10:19am

    How about making it a crime for journalists to be unobjective?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.