Letter: `Mail' allegations avoid contempt

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sir: Not everyone will agree with the statement by the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Donaldson, that the material published by the Daily Mail about the Stephen Lawrence murder may represent a gross contempt of court ("Contempt threat to `Daily Mail' ", 17 February).

There have already been two trials (however inconclusive) and a coroner's inquest, and there is no indication that another judicial process is contemplated. That being the case, I would respectfully submit that to require complete silence on the issue would interfere with the right of free speech.

It is an altogether different matter when charges have been made and a trial is contemplated. It would then be wrong to deal with the issues in the media and hold a substitute trial. This hallowed principle of English law has always been strictly applied except in one notable case - that of the two Libyans accused by Britain and the United States of carrying out in 1988 the sabotage of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

I have seen advertisements sponsored by the American State Department referring to the two Libyans (al-Amin Khalifa Fhima and Abd al-Basit Ali al-Migrahi) as "terrorists" and "criminals" and offering $4m (recently increased) for information leading to their arrest. The advertisements - some of which appeared in Arabic journals published in London - were full-page with pictures of the two Libyans superimposed on a suitcase overflowing with US banknotes. There have also been several books and programmes in the British media holding the accused guilty.

If public opinion polls were to be conducted in Britain it would be very difficult to find "twelve good men (or women) and true" whose minds have not been polluted by what they read or heard or saw about the Libyans and Lockerbie, and who would qualify to serve on a jury trying them here.

If an impartial jury cannot be found, the only fair way of dealing with this matter is to hold the trial in an impartial country.


Reading, Berkshire

The author was Professor of Law and Dean of the School of Law at the Polytechnic of Central London, now the University of Westminster