A Note on Sub Judice and the Worcester “Acid Attack” Case

From BBC News:

Father in court over Worcester ‘acid attack’ on boy, 3

The father of a boy who was the victim of a suspected acid attack is among five men who have appeared in court.

…The other men charged are [names redacted here].

The father cannot be named for legal reasons.

The mood on social media is that the BBC ought to have referred explicitly to the men’s ethnicity and residential status in the UK, although the former can be inferred from the names themselves. Further, before the charging decision, a joint Daily Mail and Mail Online article made claims about the boy’s parents and their domestic relations, from which readers continue to speculate – or rather, to make confident assertions – about motive and likelihood of guilt.

Inevitably, the allegations are also being used to draw wide-ranging negative inferences about the character of immigrants living in the UK, even though such expressions of contempt sit uneasily with supposed sympathy for the boy and his mother.

If the above reads as though I’m tiptoeing around the specific details, it is because I am mindful that the case is now sub judice, and as such discussion by law must be circumscribed, to ensure a fair trial. I may be overdoing it by redacting names that have appeared in the BBC report, but it is better to be overcautious in such matters. Trial by social media risks prejudicing the actual trial that we must assume will take place in due course: a situation in which jurors enter the courtroom with preconceptions of guilt, or in which potential defence witnesses feel intimidated by the public mood, is not conducive to justice, and if a judge believes that a fair trial is impossible then the case may collapse.

However, as was shown by reactions to Tommy Robinson’s contempt of court at Canterbury and Leeds, there is apparently an increasing belief that the temporary reporting and commentary restrictions that follow charging decisions – which many of us understand and take for granted – are actually a conspiracy to suppress important information.

Perhaps it doesn’t help that CPS warnings about sub judice appear to be ineffective, as I lamented in 2015, but as regards Tommy Robinson the public ignorance has weaponised by third parties in North America. And this is happening once again with the acid case: thus the Canadian activist Tarek Fatah falsely accuses the BBC of having “covered up for the father by not disclosing names of accused or the motive.”