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Huddersfield 13/14 JPP Law refresher

A look at legal cases in the news, plus a bit on election law
by

Richard Jones

on 17 March 2014

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Transcript of Huddersfield 13/14 JPP Law refresher

Law refresher
Today's session
Contact me
Email: Richard.Williams-Jones@hud.ac.uk
Twitter: @rlwjones
Blog: richardjonesjournalist.com
Office hours: Tue 11-12, Thu 1-2
Cases in the news
Election law
Placements at the BBC in Salford
A large number of work experience placements are on offer at the BBC in Salford: everything from Radio 5 live to Breakfast TV to Blue Peter.
Closing dates are this weekend. I've been tweeting the links out from the @Journoathud account on Twitter.
Cases in the news
This is billed as a law refresher, but I'm not going to repeat what I covered in the previous lectures. Instead, I'm going to discuss how some of those laws have applied in cases you may have seen in the news lately.
Dave Lee Travis
recently stood trial on 13 counts of indecent assault, and one of sexual assault.
The difference in terminology is because offences now considered 'sexual' assaults were previously considered 'indecent' assaults by the law. You are charged under laws as they stood at the time of any alleged offence.
This case involved victims of alleged sexual crimes. What does that mean for our reporting of those individuals?
We can't identify them because of the
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992
. Even if their names are mentioned in open court, we cannot report that.
That is, unless a complainant waives their right to anonymity. Before Travis was arrested in 2012, one person did this by giving an interview to the Mail.
Others did not, and their identities remain secret even though the trial is over.
Travis was found not guilty on 12 counts. The jury failed to reach verdicts on the other two.
So, the case is still live and proceedings remain active. We must still take care not to prejudice that.
When this happens, it's up to prosecutors to decide whether to go for a retrial. They have sought one in this case, so Travis will have to go on trial again on those two counts only.
Previous convictions
Sometimes - although not in the Travis case - defendants will have previous convictions. Generally, the media should
not

report these, for risk of
Contempt of Court
(substantial risk of serious prejudice).
The retrial will be treated as a 'new trial'. The media must not refer back to the previous trial. Remember: all court reports must be
contemporaneous
and must not cause
substantial risk of serious prejudice
.
This has become more common since the law was changed by the
Criminal Justice Act 2003
.
The disappearance and murder of Sarah Payne dominated the media in the summer of 2000. At the trial, the jury
wasn't
told that the accused, Roy Whiting, had previously abducted and sexually assaulted a schoolgirl.
Whiting was found guilty anyway. But anger over this helped lead to the change in the law.
Even so, it's still quite rare for a judge to allow this
'bad character'
evidence. The previous convictions must always be similar to the charges being put before the court.
Legal argument
will take place between the two sides, in front of the judge but not the jury, before any such evidence is allowed. Details of this
legal argument
must not be reported.
Defamation
The new
Defamation Act 2013
has now taken effect. That's the one I told you about in our lecture on Defamation. The old laws (which were similar anyway) are still in effect for cases begun before January.
Meanwhile, defamation cases relating to social media keep coming.
A recent case involved a Facebook page which was set up to promote The Bell Inn in the Cotswolds.
By page, I mean a publicly available page which people click to Like.
The man who set up the Facebook page fell out with the pub landlord. And turned it into a page full of abusive comments, most of which he left himself. He called the page 'Toad of Bellenders' and described the landlord as a 'Mr Toad' figure.
Why is that defamatory?
The landlord sued. But who?
Remember: a statement is defamatory if it lowers a person's reputation in the minds of right-thinking members of society generally.
The judge ruled the defendant, Alistair Dempster, was responsible for the content of the page even though he didn't write it all. So he ended up paying £9k damages.
Election law
We're coming up to election season. Separate elections to the European Parliament and Kirklees Council will take place on Thursday 22 May.
Newspapers, their websites and online-only publications can say what they like during election periods.
But TV and radio broadcasters must remain impartial, and they have to abide by Ofcom rules. This includes the websites of those broadcasters.
Section 5 of the Ofcom code says that all news must be "reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality."
This doesn't mean we have to sit with a stopwatch giving the same time to all sides of every argument to the second. But we do have to be fair overall.
Section 6 of the code relates to elections in particular.
6.2: Due weight must be given to the coverage of
major parties
during the election period. Broadcasters must also consider giving
appropriate
coverage to other parties and independent candidates with significant views and perspectives.
The 2010 general election debates are a good example.
Ofcom has announced that
major parties
for the 2014 European Elections are:
Conservatives
Labour
Liberal Democrats
UKIP
new for 2014!
Broadcasters don't have to hear from four parties in every bulletin or in every programme. But they must reflect the views of all four parties over the course of, say, a week.
Local reporting on elections
Back to Section 6 of the Ofcom code!
6.8: Due impartiality must be strictly maintained in a constituency report or discussion and in an electoral area report or discussion.
Basically: if you interview one candidate, you've got to do the candidates for all the major parties in the same report. Or at least offer them the chance.
But there are different rules for major parties in each area. Section 6.10 of the code says broadcasters must take account of
"previous significant electoral support or where there is evidence of significant current support."
FYI: On Kirklees Council, there are five
Greens
and three Independents, but no UKIP councillors.
So if you interview a Tory candidate, you'll have to include their Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Independent rivals (but not necessarily UKIP).
Parties sometimes help the media get round this by offering interviews with people not standing in the election: a local MP perhaps, or a visiting senior party figure.
Privacy
We hadn't seen him since his official Christening pictures were released: until...
Hello! magazine published pictures of Kate and George, on holiday in the Caribbean, that were taken by a freelance photographer.
Why might this potentially be a breach of privacy?
You could argue they'd have a
reasonable expectation
of privacy. But, perhaps surprisingly, Royal officials didn't take issue with the magazine this time.
Royal sources said it was because the pictures were taken in a public place, and no harassment was involved.
But, if a judge agrees, a defendant's previous convictions can be used as evidence.
This happened in the case of one of Britain's most notorious criminals, child murderer Robert Black.
Black was first arrested when he was 'caught in the act' of abducting a young girl in 1990. He stood trial for that abduction and was convicted.
When he later stood trial for three murders in 1994, the judge agreed that because the style of the crimes was so similar, it was justified to let the jury know about the previous conviction.
This happened again when Black was tried for another murder, in 2011.
Full transcript