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What is the law regarding media influence in criminal trials?


Media influence in criminal trials has been a much-debated issue. Many studies have been done looking at whether pre-trial press has influenced jurors and made them decide differently to how they would have decided had they only heard the evidence. Of course, media influence isn’t only harmful, and there can be benefits to significant press attention. For example, press coverage can mean that witnesses, who otherwise would not have known of the incident, can come forward and their evidence can be used in the trial.

Every person charged with a criminal offence has the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as enacted into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. In the case of media coverage and adverse publicity, if the jury are likely to be swayed by excessive media coverage of the trial and this affects the defendant’s right to a fair trial, then the trial becomes illegal and the court must do something to stop the defendant being unfairly tried.

There have been many cases in which a conviction has had to be quashed, or a trial stayed on the grounds of abuse of process, because of adverse pre-trial publicity. In the case of R v Taylor and Taylor the Court of Appeal confirmed the principle created in R v McCann, that if media coverage pre-trial and during trial created a substantial risk of prejudice to the defendants, the convictions should be regarded as unsafe and quashed. The prejudice may be such that a re-trial is not possible because a fair trial cannot take place.

If a court does decide that the jury is prejudiced by media coverage there are a number of options. The court may decide to stay or quash proceedings and may or may not decide to order a re-trial. The court may decide that the prejudice caused can be remedied by the trial process and the judge may then decide to direct the jury on the issue. The judge may also decide that the risk of prejudice is slight due to time elapsed, or because a jury is not present and the trial may go ahead.

There has recently been a lot of discussion amongst the judiciary regarding the use of the social media site Twitter from the court room. The Lord Chief Justice ruled that journalists can Tweet from the court room as long as it doesn’t interfere with the administration of justice. However, they must apply for permission from the trial judge first, and this is likely to be refused in criminal trials.

If you would like to obtain legal advice on a criminal trial, Caven can put you in touch with a local specialist criminal defence solicitor free of charge. So, if you have any questions or would like our help in finding local criminal defence solicitors please call us on 0800 046 1464 or complete the web-form above.

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