The Times reports that "Press warned over criminal records"
Why does Lord Goldsmith think that he can censor the Internet ?
Why are jurors to be treated as idiots, with the memory span of goldfish ?
Is this another facet of New Labour's attacks on the jury system, which are usually the province of David Blunkett ?
November 26, 2004
Press warned over criminal records
By Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
NEWSPAPERS were warned yesterday that they are not free to report a defendant’s previous convictions, even though these may now be disclosed to juries.
The changes did not mean “a green light” to report such evidence and doing so could still be in breach of contempt laws, Lord Goldsmith, QC, the Attorney-General said.
“To those who take that view I would sound a strong note of caution,” he told a seminar in London. “There is to be no automatic admission of such evidence. It will be a matter for the judge at trial.
“It will not be possible for journalists to know at the point of arrest or in the period leading up to trial what rulings will be made,” he said.
Publication of previous convictions or other material relating to the accused’s supposed bad character could therefore give rise to a substantial risk of serious prejudice.”
Lord Goldsmith also highlighted the risk posed by online newspaper archives. Jurors were now free to surf the web and could come across articles written months before that could be prejudicial, he said. Articles on a website that were not prejudicial when written could constitute contempt at the time of trial and should be removed.
If anybody does remove such articles, then they need to put up a clear statement that the missing articles have been censored by the legal authorities, naming the court case and petty officials. and to re-instate them as soon as the court case is over.
“If they are on the web, there is a real risk that they can be found by the jury. Of course, the judge can give direction to the jury not to surf the web but . . . that is not a very easy direction to give.
Better by far to do this, whilst a jury is sequestered, than to attempt to censor the rest of the world trying to access the world wide web.
“The media therefore has to be aware of this risk and be prepared, where there is a substantial risk of serious prejudice to remove reports from websites, even when the report, when it first appeared in the printed press, did not give rise to a substantial risk, due to the fade factor (the time likely to elapse before trial).”
The idea of retrospective legal proceedings is an anathema to justice, but it seems that the Government is increasingly happy to inflict this on us.
Lord Goldsmith also reminded the media that such a “fade factor” was not a guarantee that jurors would forget all details they had read. Unusual facts in simple cases could stick in the mind, he said.
What right has Lord Goldsmith, or any court, to try to control an individual's memory ?
Are jurors to be forcibly given mind control drugs to wipe out their memories, experience and knowledge of all events prior to what they are forced to hear in court ?
What proof is there that jurors are incapable of sifting out irrelevant facts and opinion from media or web reports ? That is, presumably, part of the task that they are meant to do in court.
Referring to the guidance he issues from time to time to editors, Lord Goldsmith said he did not believe this had “any inappropriate chilling effect on the media.”
Lord Goldsmith is wrong. This sort of "guidance" is not "proportionate" and interferes with the human rights of free expression and freedom of thought. There will be a chilling effect, not just on rich newspapers, but on web sites and blogs based in the UK. There will be no effect whatsover on say the Google cache or the Archive.org WayBack Machine or foreign based websites.
The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith should concentrate on stopping his own Cabinet Minister colleagues like the David Blunkett from broadcasting his authotitative official opinion as Home Secretary on the risk to national security which various "innocent until proven guilty" people pose, thereby predjudicing their chances of a free and fair trial on terrorism charges.
David Blunkett's comments that forthcoming trials would show that Al Quaeda is active in the UK, is an unproven allegation, but one which, given his official position, must be prejudicial to those trials, even if it is true.
If you see an interesting article on a newspaper or tv news website or on a blog website based in the UK (like this one), you should probably save a local copy of the web page as well as bookmarking it - if Lord Goldsmith gets his way, then history might be re-written or censored like the slogans written on the barn in George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Perhaps we will have to start mirroring Spy Blog on Freenet and/or on web servers in a Data Haven away from the grasp of the New Labour Government. Realistically, HavenCo / Sealand is a little bit too close to the UK for comfort.
Email us with any offers of webspace and bandwidth in a Temporary Autonomous Zone.