No more comments during trials

The HOS reports:

The Solicitor General’s office is investigating whether internet bloggers and social networking sites have breached contempt of court laws in the Sophie Elliott trial. …

Solicitor General spokeswoman Jan Fulstow said on Thursday the office was considering what action to take over a Facebook group called “Clayton Weatherston is a Murderer. He committed murder, not manslaughter” as well as comments on David Farrar’s Kiwiblog.

I commented to the HOS:

Kiwiblog creator David Farrar said he was generally “careful to avoid commenting on trials while under way”.

He gave the Bain trial as an example of him saving commentary until after the jury retired.

“In the Weatherston trial, the basic facts are not in dispute,” he said.

“Hence, there is no dispute about innocence – only whether or not he is found guilty of murder or manslaughter – a decision for the jury guided by the Judge. I understand jurors are usually specifically warned to not read information on the internet about the case.

“As I have done in other cases, if I am asked to delete comments that may be prejudicial, I will generally do so.

I think it is fair to say though that my anger at the fact the victim seems to being blamed for the murder, may have led me to not being as cautious as I should have been.

I am unsure as to what are the limits of acceptable discussion on criminal issues. Should you just not comment during the trial, any time after depositions, or any time after arrest?

If someone is found guilty I presume you can then comment, but what if they then lodge an appeal?

Anyway as I don’t wish to end up in judicial trouble, my interim policy is now going to be to now have any discussions on criminal issues except in a general law reform sense. In a way it is a pity because we actually have several defence lawyers comment here and I find their contributions welcome.

As I said I am genuinely unsure where the line should be drawn, and would welcome any advice on this. In the Veitch case we saw details published in Sunday newspapers for weeks on end, and that did not appear to be an issue.

Maybe there is no hard and fast boundary as to when you can or can not comment online, or as to what you can say, but perhaps a useful initiative would be the creation of a plain English guide for bloggers etc on what they can and can not comment on in terms of criminal justice issues. This could go on either Crown Law or Ministry of Justice website. I know I would find such a document bloody useful, and I suspect so would many others.  Unlike commercial media we don’t have lawyers on call.

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