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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 February, 2005, 12:51 GMT
Polanski wins video link battle
Roman Polanski
Polanski's appeal was heard by a panel of five Law Lords
Film director Roman Polanski will give evidence in a libel case via video link from France, the Law Lords have ruled.

Mr Polanski is bringing libel action against the magazine Vanity Fair in the English High Court.

But to avoid the risk of extradition to the US, where he is wanted on an outstanding child sex offence, the director will give evidence from Paris.

The Law Lords ruled on Thursday that Mr Polanski should not be denied access to justice because of extradition fears.

Despite his fugitive status, a fugitive from justice is entitled to invoke the assistance of the court
Lord Nicholls
Mr Polanski, 71, fled the US more than 25 years ago after admitting having sex with 13-year-old girl.

As a French citizen, Mr Polanski cannot be extradited to the US from France, but that protection would not apply were he to travel to the UK.

Mr Polanski has issued libel proceedings against Conde Naste, publishers of Vanity Fair, over an article published in July 2002.

After issuing his libel writ, Mr Polanski sought a High Court order allowing him to give evidence via a video conferencing (VCF) link from France.

In granting the order, Mr Justice Eady said that, although the reason underlying the application was unattractive, this did not justify depriving Mr Polanski of the chance to have his case heard.

That decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, but restored on Thursday by the House of Lords in a 3-2 majority ruling.

Constitutional right

Lord Nicholls said: "Despite his fugitive status, a fugitive from justice is entitled to invoke the assistance of the court and its procedures in protection of his civil rights."

The fact that Mr Polanski was guilty of a serious crime and feared extradition did not take the case outside the general rule.

Lord Hope said the director had an undoubted constitutional right, as a citizen of France, not to be extradited.

"That is his right and he wishes to exercise it," he said.

"He is not trying to hide from anybody. It is incorrect, then, to say that his sole aim in seeking this order is to avoid being extradited."

'Quite wrong'

Baroness Hale said there was a strong public interest in allowing a claim to be properly litigated.

She said: "New technology such as VCF is not a revolutionary departure from the norm to be kept strictly in check, but simply another tool for securing effective access to justice for everyone."

"If we had a rule that people such as the appellant were not entitled to access to justice at all, then of course that tool should be denied him. But we do not and it should not."

Disagreeing, Lord Slynn said the video link facility should be refused where the sole reason for asking for it was to escape a criminal conviction or sentence.

Lord Carswell said it would be "quite wrong" to allow him to give his evidence in a special way to avoid the consequences of his criminal act.

Roman Polanski won a best director Oscar for The Pianist in 2003, following earlier nominations for Chinatown (1974) and Tess (1979), and a best adapted screenplay nomination for Rosemary's Baby (1968).

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