Friday 28 November 2014

Media warned on pre-trial publicity

Published 18/09/2013 | 11:21

The media has been warned about its reporting of ongoing legal cases
The media has been warned about its reporting of ongoing legal cases

The state's chief prosecutor has issued a warning to the media and commentators about the risks of prejudicing trials.

Claire Loftus, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), has raised concerns about the danger of pre-trial publicity interfering with the right to a fair trial.

"The media and commentators have a high degree of responsibility to ensure that not only do they not commit a contempt of court by publishing or broadcasting prejudicial material but also that such publicity is not the cause of a trial being postponed for a long period, or even indefinitely," she said.

"These risks increase as any trial date approaches."

Ms Loftus said she was making the remarks in a general sense as she wrote in the foreword to her office's annual report for last year.

The issue has raised its head over the last few months as trials are pending on former bankers.

Ms Loftus also said that she does not envisage extending a system to explain decisions not to prosecute in the near future. At present the "reasons project" is limited to cases involving a death.

The Government has until October 2015 to enforce European rules on dealing with v ictims of crime and ensure they have the right to know why a suspect is not prosecuted. The directive covers most cases and has some exceptions.

Offences covered by the rule includes, among others, assault, robberies, burglaries, harassment, rape, child sexual abuse and murder.

The DPP's office will review their approach to giving explanations to victims of crime after further analysis of the European directive and its implications.

Elsewhere, Ms Loftus said she shares judges' concerns that the backlog in the Court of Criminal Appeal means that undue leniency reviews and other appeals against conviction and sentence have been considerably delayed. A referendum is due next month on setting up a standalone Court of Appeal.

The DPP's report revealed that 12.23 million euro (£10.2 million) was paid to prosecuting lawyers last year, a fall of 9% on the previous year.

The office dealt with 15,289 files, a drop on the year before, although Ms Loftus said the size and complexity of the case files are growing year on year.

State lawyers were asked for a decision on whether to prosecute in files relating to 11,942 suspects and a decision was made not to pursue a case in 4,674 cases.

The reasons given included insufficient evidence in 3,678 cases, in the public interest in 113 cases, one case of sympathetic grounds, 36 for u ndue delay, and 192 cases in which the i njured party withdrew a complaint.

The annual report revealed that since victims were given the right to seek information on why prosecutions were not brought, 41 requests have been made, with almost two-thirds related to fatal road traffic cases.

Detailed reasons have been given in 35 cases.

Last year, 21 cases were heard in the appeal court after the DPP sought a new sentence on the grounds of undue leniency and 15 were successful.

This is down from cases in the mid to high 50s since 2008.

The total cost of running the state's prosecution services last year was 38.8 million euro (£32.4 million), up 2.1 million euro (£1.7 million) on the previous year.

Press Association

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