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LORD CHIEF JUSTICE SPEAKS ON JUSTICE IN THE MEDIA AGE

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The Lord Chief Justice, The Right Honourable Lord Taylor of Gosforth, today addressed the Commonwealth Judges and M...
The Lord Chief Justice, The Right Honourable Lord Taylor of Gosforth, today addressed the Commonwealth Judges and Magistrates' Association at the Hertfordshire Symposium Images of Justice - Differing Perceptions in the Law Faculty of the University of Hertfordshire at St Albans.

He said it is crucial in a democracy that justice is administered in public: 'Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done'.

It is also a fundamental principle that citizens, including those who comment through the media, should enjoy freedom of expression - the right to free expression is often enshrined in a county's constitution and is specifically recognised by both the European and International Conventions on Human Rights.

Equally important, however, is the importance of maintaining the integrity of the judicial process - decisions have to be made only on the basis of evidence put and tested before the Court itself.

This principle underpinned the whole concept of freedom in a democratic society.

He said: 'It is healthy that the media and through them the ordinary citizen should observe closely and critically how public institutions and services are run. The legal process should no longer be seen as so specialised and esoteric as to be beyond the comprehension and criticism of non- lawyers.'

But he does not support proposals to televise criminal trials, since this would place unjustifiable burdens upon witnesses and victims:

'It is said that once the cameras have been in place for a while they are unobtrusive and participants in the trial forget they are there. That may be so for judges and counsel who are there every day and feel comfortable in their workplace. It would be quite different for the witness who is probably giving evidence for the first and only time in his or her life and who may be greeted at the end of the day by neighbours commenting on having seen the programme on their screens.'

In addition, he pointed to the risks of trials being undermined if lawyers express their personal views on the merits of their clients' cases in public.

He said: 'I believe it may be inconsistent with a lawyer's primary obligation to the court to express in public his or her personal views about the guilt or innocence of their client, or indeed any other aspect of the case.'

Lord Taylor said that there are three main challenges facing legal systems in modern democracies.

First, it is necessary to recognise that the right of the public to information, and of the media to report and express views freely, have to be balanced against the right of the parties, and in particular the defendant in a criminal case, to a fair trial. One very real danger raised by irresponsible reporting of the judicial process is that a fair trial might become impossible.

Secondly, the right of the media to criticise judicial decisions should be exercise only on the basis of the facts established in the trial - not on the basis of unsubstantiated selection of the facts.

Thirdly, there is a need for the judiciary to be more open with the media, both in relation to the judicial function, and in relation to topics of current concern which affect the law and its institutions.

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