Trial by Media: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The UK Supreme Court has ended a 4-year battle by allowing The Times to publish the name of a man arrested in connection with a child sex ring, and later named in evidence by one of the complainers as her abuser.

Tariq Khudja was on police bail for 16 months while further investigation was carried out regarding his role in child sex abuse, he was never charged or brought to trial. The potential for future charges meant Khudja benefitted from his right to a fair trial (guaranteed by Article 6 ECHR). Pre-trial publicity must be carefully regulated in order to secure an unbiased jury to determine the innocence or guilt of an individual on trial.

It was later confirmed that Khudja would be released from arrest without charge. Under these circumstances, with no criminal trial imminent or pending, should identity still be protected? From an Article 6 perspective, the answer must be no. From the perspective of ‘mud sticks’, the answer is still no, according to the UKSC.

Khudja applied for a privacy injunction. The UKSC had to conduct a balancing exercise between Khudja’s individual right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression by the press. The 5-2 decision tipped the scales in favour of the latter. Public interest was a factor which weighed heavily in the courts decision which can be understood in light of the specific facts of the case.

The media must be careful not to let history repeat itself. In 2010 Christopher Jefferies was arrested in connection with the murder of Joanna Yeates. He found himself vilified and hounded by the media. Some months after his arrest, Jefferies was eliminated from the enquiry and someone else was found guilty of the murder.

The press may have won an important battle for the freedom to report on criminal trials, the war will long continue.