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Lord Falconer warns news media

LAW IN ACTION
Lord Falconer
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 19 February 1600 GMT
On Radio 4 and online

The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, tells Law in Action that archived internet stories bearing on pending criminal cases should be removed from the web.

He says there is a risk of prejudicing the outcome of trials if jury members were to read earlier coverage of a criminal investigation.

Lord Falconer says such internet pages should be treated as contempt of court, which can attract heavy fines and a jail sentence.

He believes the Attorney General should identify around 20 high-profile criminal cases a year and instruct newspapers and broadcasters to remove old web stories which contain potentially prejudicial information.

CONTRIBUTORS on CONTEMPT of COURT
Charles Collier-Wright
Trinity Mirror
Donald Findlay QC
Catrin Turner
Pinsent Masons solicitors
Rupert Elliot
barrister
Richard Bilton
BBC reporter
Rod Dadak
Lewis Silken solicitors
Duncan Lamont
Charles Russell solicitors
Jeff Edwards
Daily Mirror reporter

However, other experts in media and criminal law tell Law in Action's Ruth Alexander that the growth of the internet has demonstrated that the law on contempt of court is outdated.

Even if the mainstream news media do remove potentially prejudicial pages, it is likely that the material will already have been copied to other sites, and will remain available on the internet.

Justice Scalia - your reactions

Law in Action's interview last week with US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia caused headlines around the world.

Scalia argued that torture may not be unconstitutional and would not be covered by the 8th Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment."

He also criticised Europeans who attack the US use of the death penalty, arguing that most people in Europe actually favour capital punishment.

We received many e-mails in response, including the following comments:

"I despair when I listen to people like this…Human rights are not negotiable and torture is not acceptable in a civilised society (even for Non-Americans!)"
Rajen Morjaria, UK

"Justice Antonin Scalia's statements regarding the 'ticking bomb' scenario are based on the assumption that torture works. Having interviewed both interrogators and victims of torture, I find it a ridiculous argument. Aside from the question of whether torture is ever morally justified, the simple truth is that it doesn't work."
Nic Dunlop, Bangkok, Thailand

"What a balanced and sensible man! I was impressed that he was not afraid to criticise European democracy for not being truly representative, in particular about the death penalty. The truth is that political policy here is decided by lobby groups and special interest groups within parliament."
Andrew Levens, Cirencester

Responding to the interview in this week's Law in Action, Lisa Osofsky, former deputy general counsel to the FBI, tells the programme that although Justice Scalia's arguments on torture may be correct, evidence gained by torture would not be admissable in US courts.

Terrorism rulings

Two recent rulings by the Court of Appeal seem to have struck blows against anti-terrorism legislation. But how significant are they?

Lofti Raissi
Entitled to compensation: Raissi was wrongly accused of training 11 September hijackers

Keir Starmer QC, a leading human rights barrister, discussed the importance of the two cases.

In the first, the Court quashed the convictions of five young Muslims for downloading extremist propaganda.

The ruling brings into question the validity of Sections 57 and 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which outlaw the possession of items likely to be of use or connected to terrorism.

The Court found that mere possession of this kind of material isn't sufficient to prove an intent to make use of it.

Mr. Starmer said the decision showed that the Court was concerned that the original legislation had cast too wide a net.

The other case concerned airline pilot Lotfi Raissi who was wrongly arrested and detained after September 11th. Here the appeal court judges opened the way for a civil claim for damages.

Mr. Starmer said the key factor was that Mr. Raissi had suffered irreparable damage to his reputation.

Law In Action will be broadcast on Tuesday 19 February 2008 at 1600 GMT on BBC Radio 4.

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SEE ALSO
Net news 'threatens court cases'
19 Feb 08 |  Technology
Profile: Lotfi Raissi
14 Feb 08 |  UK

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