Nanny Trial: Sharp contrast in US justice style

Louise Woodward's trial has highlighted justice, US-style. Kim Sengupta examines the differences in the judicial system across the Atlantic, and asks whether the young nanny received a fair hearing by British standards.

The names sounded so reassuringly familiar, the court was in a town called Cambridge, a county called Middlesex. But that is where the similarities ended. The trial and subsequent conviction of Louise Woodward showed up the chasm between the administration of justice in this country and in the United States.

The case was always going to be a cause celebre, but no one could have foreseen the scale of controversy it whipped up on both sides of the Atlantic.

British television viewers had seen how proceedings in US courtrooms can almost turn into a three-ring circus during the OJ Simpson trial. But with the fate of a 19-year-old Englishwoman hanging in the balance, the perceived shortcomings came starkly home.

The most striking difference was the deluge of publicity surrounding the case. Court TV broadcast the proceedings live daily to its 33 million subscribers. It was often in the style of a macabre soap opera with trailers for juicy future episodes like Louise's appearance in the witness box.

This coverage was then used for a separate, parallel public trial with material which would have been considered grossly prejudicial in Britain being bandied around on radio and television. In phone-ins and live TV, "experts" debated the issues, with some convicting the nanny as a baby killer.

Then came interviews with relatives, including a moving one with baby Matthew's parents, Sunil and Deborah Eappen. On Wednesday, while the jury was still considering its verdict, Mrs Eappen told CBS: "I think she intentionally and deliberately killed Matthew."

All this would have been impossible in Britain where, during the trial, the reporting must be contemporaneous and restricted to courtroom proceedings under the Contempt of Court Act l981.

There were other differences. In Massachusetts, the defendant has the right to choose not to be tried on one of the charges. Louise's defence team chose not to be tried on the manslaughter charge. This effectively put the jury in a strait-jacket. In Britain the jurors would be able to consider both murder and manslaughter.

The question is raised on why Barry Scheck, Louise's high-profile lawyer who was part of the successful OJ Simpson defence team, chose to go for this "loose or noose" tactic.

The prosecutor too came in for criticism. Louise was a political " puppet" charged with first-degree murder to help the election prospect of the District Attorney, Thomas Reilly, according to Peter Elikann, chairman of the criminal justice section of the Massachusetts state Bar Association.

Even lawyers criticised the proceedings. Jonathan Caplan QC, said: "The more you see these trials, they show you what a shambles the American criminal justice system is." Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz spoke of a "runaway jury".

Suggested Topics
News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game