High Sheriff’s lecture puts media and the law on trial
Published Friday 25th March 2011
David Laing hosted his final guest lecture as High Sheriff of Northamptonshire at The University of Northampton yesterday [Thursday 24 March].
Titled 'Media and the Law' and attended by over 100 students, university staff, law firm and other business representatives - the event reviewed the often tangled relationships between topics including freedom of speech, European privacy legislation, justifiable public interest, and proper judicial process.
In a debate moderated by the University's Vice Chancellor, Professor Nick Petford, guest speakers Sir Michael Connell, a retired High Court Judge; and Charles Wilson, a former editor and newspaper executive, presented their views on whether too much or too little power is ascribed to news media in their reporting.
A free press needs to be protected by everyone. However, if we look at the tragic and awful Joanna Yeates murder case, before the investigation was finished Christopher Jefferies, a retired English teacher, was assumed guilty by certain sections of the press.
There no longer seems to be respect for judges who have to make an impartial consideration of the issues to do their job, and contempt of court doesn't appear to be being enforced as strongly as it used to be.Sir Michael Connell
Journalists tend to be suspicious of lawyers and justice has to be seen to be done. Media make people aware of the deterrent of the law. Both media and judiciary depend on each other to remain free and independent.
I am aware of several high profile figures currently hiding behind the recently developed 'Super Injunction', which is a pernicious coat of arms. Additionally, the Conditional Fee Arrangement and rise of 'no win, no fee' lawyers has encouraged the growth of legal firms which cherry pick the most profitable cases. Media are increasingly settling out of court to avoid crippling costs.Charles Wilson