Atlantic cousins disagree over power of the media

UK and US lawyers found themselves on opposite sides of the fence in a controversial ABA debate on trial by television.

The argument was triggered by the OJ Simpson trial. Simpson was seen on national television driving at top speed away from chasing police cars before being apprehended.

The public has been well-informed on the nature of the forensic evidence against him, and there is a fear that no juror could sit with an open mind.

In one of his last public speeches as ABA president, Bill Ide said: “Trial by media does not produce justice. I am very concerned that we protect the integrity of the courts, and try cases in the courts and not by public opinion.”

He said the defendant needed the full protection offered by the Constitution and the presumption of innocence until guilt is proved.

He slammed the British Government's Criminal Justice Bill, which could allow juries here to infer guilt from silence, saying: “It's not going to protect the individual. I think we have it right here. The right to silence is paramount.”

But Shakespeares senior partner Charles Flint disagrees about the effect of media coverage on trials in the UK.

He says: “When jurors get into court, their minds are concentrated by the lawyers and the judge. If the lawyers cannot influence the minds of the jury, they should not be in court. I don't think we need any more restrictions on the media.”

Part of the disparity in view lies in the difference between the two countries over reporting restrictions on criminal cases.

Simpson's arraignment (committal) hearing has already been broadcast live on American and British television and plastered across the front pages of the newspapers. This would be impossible in a trial in the UK.