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Have media learned lessons from Madeleine's case? Mm11

Have media learned lessons from Madeleine's case? Regist10

Have media learned lessons from Madeleine's case?

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Have media learned lessons from Madeleine's case? Empty Have media learned lessons from Madeleine's case?

Post by Jill Havern on 19.05.10 17:36

As media interest focuses on the deaths of two British children in a hotel room in Spain, media lawyer Duncan Lamont writes for Channel 4 News about how the legal systems differ in the way they investigate such crimes - and how the media reports them.

Have media learned lessons from Madeleine's case? 19_hotel_g_k

A British mother is in the custody of the Spanish police on suspicion of murdering her two young children on Spain's Costa Brava.

The father is a suspected paedophile arrested recently in Barcelona who appeared before magistrates in Carlisle earlier today.

A tragedy has occurred but inevitably there is now going to be a focus on the quality of the Spanish criminal investigation, the human rights of those involved (the deceased as well as the defendant mother) and how the local media and British press behave.

Put bluntly, have any lessons been learned from the coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal three years ago?

The Spanish authorities investigate crimes in a different way to us with much earlier, and much, much more hands on, judicial involvement.

A judge from a court in the nearby town of Blanes (close to Lloret de Mar) will oversee the investigation and has already been to the Hotel Miramar and spoken to staff.

But the right to a fair trial is as important to Spaniards as here in Britain and article six of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, applies there too.

- Dead children's father held on sex charges

The reporting of alleged crimes committed abroad by the British media can give a misleading impression of both how local cases are reported "over there" and how our criminal investigations are reported.

This is because the law of contempt of court, to protect the rights of defendants but also the prosecution, works in the individual jurisdictions.

The English and Welsh Courts protect the administration of justice in their jurisdiction. The Scottish courts ensure fair trials in Scotland and there are laws in Spain to ensure defendants are not prejudiced there.

In fact Spanish laws are, by and large, tougher – the investigators give less information to the media, defendants can remain anonymous until after conviction and the media by and large let the local investigators get on with their jobs (even if the process can be relatively slow).

Conversely Spanish newspapers can report on cases here in more detail that our courts allow by our media. The British media is not usually interested in Spanish cases, but when it is it is aware that it can report more than the local media because it cannot (it would argue) prejudice the course of justice in Spain.

Reporting the courts and ongoing police investigations is usually covered by qualified privilege which means that as long as you are contemporaneous and accurate, you cannot face a libel claim from a defendant who is subsequently found innocent and therefore (they might argue) should never have been tainted with suspicion of murder or whatever.

Things can go catastrophically wrong when there is such public interest in an alleged crime that the media overstep the boundaries and conduct their own investigations (interviewing potential witnesses can be prejudicial, as can offering to pay them money!) and even speculating wildly about guilt and innocence.

The parents of Madeleine McCann, who disappeared, presumed abducted three years ago, were the subject of a torrent of media speculation and allegation and subsequently won substantial damages (as have others associated with the case) from the British media for the publication of defamatory untruths about them.

In Spain the process may be about to start again as there have already been reports of a confession, suffocation – all matters that turn out to be wrong or misleading.

We know there are two innocent victims. But whether it could be murder, manslaughter or madness, is not as simple as may first appear.

This case may (or may not) capture the world's attention in a way that Madeleine McCann's disappearance did but the media in Britain, and indeed in Spain where there has been more detailed and speculative reports than usual, need to remember the obligation of fairness and accuracy – all the local police have officially revealed is that that the mother of two deceased minors has been detained so they can find out what happened.

Something tragic has occurred but there is no reason to that the Girona police will not scrupulously comply with everyone's rights under the Europe wide human rights principles and in particular the right to a fair trial for all involved, victims included.

Hopefully their work will not be sidetracked into investigations into media reports of the case.

Duncan Lamont is a media solicitor with Charles Russell LLP.

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Jill Havern
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Post by Judge Mental on 19.05.10 19:56

The most important lesson that should have been learned, is that parents need relentless questioning whether they are in a state of shock, flux or upset. Never again must the parents of missing, deceased or sick children be treated with the kid gloves that we have witnessed for the past three years.
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Post by Guest on 19.05.10 22:28

Gerry will not be happy with 'presumed' abducted!

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