Two countries separated by their legal systems as well as their language? Dr Conrad Murray

With the forthcoming trial of Dr Conrad Murray are we to witness another media frenzy?

Any study of the legal system in America will soon tell you that it is not just the continued use of the death penalty which makes our system so different.

In the weeks leading up to the opening of the trial of Dr Conrad Murray, who is currently facing manslaughter charges over Michael Jackson's death, we have been told that the trial Judge,Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor,is to allow the trial process to be televised.  Judge Michael Pastor handed down the surprise order provided that the camera equipment is placed in a position which minimises any intrusion.

At the same time, on our side of the pond, we have been told that the Supreme Court see no reason why micro networking sites cannot be used live in court. The building used by the UKSC has been fully Wi Fi enabled, including all the courtrooms, in order to facilitate use of technology in and outside court to keep abreast of events.  The judiciary, having considered the matter, have decided that it is acceptable to Twitter in the Supreme Court in most circumstances as the Court does not rely upon a jury and there are no witnesses to distract as the proceedings are usually based on paperwork.

We do not allow the reporting of judicial proceedings and recording and imaging is prohibited under the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

Is that the end of the differences? It seems not, any of you who have searched for information regarding the case will realise that articles are accessible on the internet. Some even report likely defence arguments which may or may not be raised.  Any potential juror is able to pick up and read such material and this is where we seem to be much more protective of the principle that jurors should only base their decisions and deliberations upon evidence that they have seen or heard as part of the trial.  There are well known reporting restrictions in this country but not so in America. This raises the issue of whether such reporting simply encourages trials by the media.  Who can forget the case of O.J. Simpson?

Having allowed reporting to continue in America it is strange that it seems to be generally accepted that this media coverage may, in some people's eyes, affect the outcome of the trial. To counteract this the Judge is expected to produce a 30 page questionnaire containing 160 questions for jurors to answer. Jurors will have to answer these as part of their vetting arrangements to try and make sure that the jurors can be sufficiently open minded so as not to be prejudiced before the trial begins. This process may take some time but it seems the Judge is anticipating that this will need to be done before the trial commences properly in May.  In this country we do not spend nearly so much time concerning ourselves over such matters although both parties do have the opportunity to raise questions of the jurors.

 

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