The impartiality of the judiciary and its ability to safeguard the fundamental cornerstones of democracy in the form of open justice and press freedom is being put to the test this week in the run up to a murder trial.
UK media heavyweights are challenging a request by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to have the trial heard 'in camera' behind closed doors under the spurious pretext that it is in the interests of national security so to do. As Mediabeak previously reported the trial, due to start on the 23rd of January, concerns the murder of an author, Allan Chappelow in June 2006. A 45 year old financial trader, Wang Yam is on trial for murder. As part of his defence, Yam had handed over a list of people who he contends are the true and likely suspect in the murder case. It is this list the Home Secretary is seeking to gag.
Here we have the unusual scenario whereby the person accused wants the press to hear what's being said and presented in court, the media want to report what the court is being presented with but the state wishes to suppress the evidence for fear of implicating its own or 'compromising national security'. It is a fundamental tenet of justice that such a case be in the open. The defendant has a right to defend himself with evidence and the media have a right to report on this as well as the evidence led by the prosecution.
Why was an 86 year old recluse murdered and who wants to cover it up?
Frances Gibb from The Times tried to answer this in a previous article.
It is to be hoped that justice will prevail and that Mr Justice Ousley who has the task of deciding will give suitable weight to the Human Rights Act and underlying European Convention principles. If not, it is a slippery slope for open justice and the media's ability to report on it.