UK Media Warned Over Soham Trial Coverage

January 2004

Television, Radio, Internet, Newspapers

In a speech to journalists and editors, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, set out a series of guidelines for the press after he stated that the coverage of the Soham murder trial was ‘unacceptable’. He reminded journalists at the Law for Journalists Conference that reports which asserted or assumed that the defendant was guilty were not acceptable. He also warned that stories which might prejudice the police’s investigation and stories which prejudiced the defendant’s right to a fair trial were also not acceptable.
However, on the same day, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said of Sajid Badat, arrested for possible terrorism charges, “This individual posed a very real threat to life and liberty of our country … this person has connections with the network of Al-Qaeda groups”.

COMMENT : It is difficult to see how the Home Secretary’s comments are anything but prejudicial to the defendant and his right to a fair trial in the United Kingdom. Whilst it is coincidental that the Attorney General’s guidance were on the same day as the Home Secretary’s comments (The Times, 29 November 2003) there has always been the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in the UK. The Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention of Human Rights(Article 6) have provided for the right of a fair trial. The Times reported that the Attorney General’s office was to investigate the remarks as a breach of the laws of contempt of court. The Independent newspaper (1 December 2003) reported that the Lord Chancellor had also commented, in general terms, that pre-trial comments of this nature could not be acceptable. 

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