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Unprejudiced

By Steven | August 25, 2008

Some defence lawyers have been getting their knickers in a knot about reporting on the Veitch case in yesterday’s Sunday Star-Times and Herald on Sunday.

Can’t say I share their concerns. Certainly, now that charges have been laid, publishing material that tends to create a real risk of prejudice to Veitch’s trial will be a contempt of court. But there doesn’t seem to be much in these stories to create such a risk.

They essentially summarise the police allegations. It looks like they came from the police summary of facts. The papers reported them as allegations. They note that Veitch denies them. They don’t get into assessing the evidence. They have reported no more than is almost certain to come out in depositions. Any trial is a good long way away, so any possible effect on jurors is almost sure to dissipate.

The police have denied leaking the information, so there’s some chance that it came from Veitch’s camp – perhaps to help get us used to the idea that the case won’t be about a one-off assault, and highlight the fact that one of the allegations includes throwing water and thereby discredit the case.

(The Herald on Sunday made the most of this, but its headline was a bit of a stretch:

Water assault charge for Veitch

In fact, as the story notes, the alleged circumstances are that he pushed her onto a bed and threw water in her face. I don’t think the water-throwing alone – while technically an assault – would have formed the basis of a charge).

There is some danger in reporting the summary of facts as the papers have done here. It’s possible that some charges may be withdrawn or that better information may become available as the case proceeds. It also effectively gives one side a chance to put its spin on the case. Both of these things mean that readers – potential jurors – have their perceptions coloured by material that may be inaccurate or irrelevant. But the risk seems pretty low to me here.

Topics: Contempt of Court | 43 Comments »

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