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Last Updated: Friday, 25 May 2007, 03:18 GMT 04:18 UK
Court report ban 'could be eased'
Lord Goldsmith
Absence of information can be "damaging", Lord Goldsmith said
Research should be carried out into whether juries are prejudiced by media reports of criminal cases, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has said.

He said the belief in the Contempt of Court Act that coverage before a trial in England and Wales could influence a verdict had not been properly examined.

Lord Goldsmith said the public could be given more details after high-profile arrests, such as in terrorism cases.

"Silence" might make people think prosecutors had no case, he said.

Reporting restrictions, which come into force after someone is arrested, can remain in force for months or even years until court proceedings come to an end.

Lord Goldsmith said this can damage public safety - as the impression is given of a case collapsing or of "trumped up charges".

'More open'

In major police investigations there may need for a system which allows journalists to publish more information than is presently possible, the Attorney General said in a speech to the Reform Club in London.

"Having fair trials is imperative - but I am in favour of examining whether we can be more open about such cases in a controlled and considered basis but still consistent with the imperative requirements of justice," he said.

"A consistent concern expressed to me is that the absence of information on cases pending, especially after high-profile arrests, can be very damaging."

Lord Goldsmith said research in other countries has concluded the effects of pre-trial reporting was less significant than might be thought.

A study in Australia found jurors were not likely to recall the publicity in detail, and any such information was superseded by the evidence they heard in court.

A Canadian study concluded pre-trial publicity had little effect, even in sensational cases.


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