Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 12:05 UK

French baffled by 'odd' UK courts

By Jeremy Britton
BBC News, Old Bailey

The families of the murdered men outside the Old Bailey
There has been great media interest in the case in France

The antiquated courts of the Old Bailey and the constraints of the British justice system have left French reporters covering the New Cross murder trial frustrated in the extreme.

And they feel the parents of the murdered French students Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez have been overlooked during the trial.

A dozen French broadcasters and writers arrived at Britain's most famous criminal court with high expectations.

Fabien Thelma from French broadcaster Canal Plus said it was a huge story in France when the tragic circumstances of the students' deaths were revealed.

"The horror shocked everybody. People never expected that sort of thing to happen in England," Mr Thelma said.

But there was a lot of trust placed in the British authorities.

"Scotland Yard has a good reputation overseas and we thought they had been very efficient at finding two people in a week - that's very quick," he said.

Unfortunately Mr Thelma immediately found the British court system very difficult to understand and report.

Cameras in court

"Its a very old system and it's very odd to come here.

"The sound is bad - we can't hear the judge or defence - and the set-up means you can't see the jury.

"The Old Bailey should be adapted to the modern age," he said.

The court hours in France can start at eight in the morning and last until eight in the evening; at the Old Bailey it is just a five-hour day.

And in France, cameras are free to film interviews with trial lawyers in the court buildings and ask them to pass comment on the case and even rate the performance of witnesses.

Fabien Thelma
The family are being put aside - they are at the back of the court - we cannot see them and they cannot speak
Fabien Thelma, Canal Plus broadcaster

"I had to explain to my audience, I would not be able to give as much information - just report the facts," said Mr Thelma.

"It's very frustrating for us, we like to give an impression of what's going on.

"Or suggest that a defendant like Sonnex lost his nerve and that may have been a sign he was losing it and this put him in a bad position."

In France it was usual for the victims' families to have attorneys to give interviews during the case, whereas here they could not comment, he said.

However, some people did find French trials too emotional and did not concentrate enough on the evidence, he conceded.

"We feel the families have not been allowed to speak because they don't want to put the process in jeopardy.

"We want to know what the family feel," Mr Thelma said.

"The family are being put aside - they are at the back of the court. We cannot see them and they cannot speak."

There was particular anger among the French press when invitations to a briefing at the Ministry of Justice at the end of the trial were not sent to them.

One agency told the BBC that it was even forced to remind a press officer that the trial was about the murder of French citizens.

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