Press Association urges balanced approach on lawyers talking to media
The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) is warning of the potential negative impact on the public if the current controversy, around whether lawyers should give interviews and talk to the media during criminal trials in particular, leads to a clampdown on the flow of information.
The PAJ, in a statement yesterday, said it was well aware of the critical importance of ensuring that the constitutional right of the accused to a fair trial is maintained, but pointed out that other rights are engaged, including the right to freedom of expression, and the right of the public to seek and receive information.
In its statement, the association, which represents journalists across the island, noted that the General Legal Council (GLC) has said that "statements concerning pending judicial proceedings which may have the effect of influencing the outcome of proceedings is an interference with the administration of justice and as such is punishable as a contempt of court".
"Although the GLC's statement did not say that lawyers cannot speak to the media, our experience is that expressions like this, without more, can be interpreted as a blanket prohibition on speaking to the press," said PAJ President Dionne Jackson Miller, who is also an attorney.
"This would be undesirable, and a grave disservice to the public," she added.
"In an age where public trust in the processes of justice is vital, instant communication and social media are accepted ways of life. We need to find more open and transparent ways of bringing the public into the courtrooms and halls of justice."
Said Jackson Miller: "Explanations and summaries from attorneys involved in a matter are of vital importance in helping both reporters and the public understand the often complex and nuanced issues involved in criminal proceedings. It is difficult for the public to trust a system it does not understand."
'Provide media training for attorneys'
The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) said yesterday that the legal profession should consider media training for lawyers and encouraging prosecutors as well as defence attorneys to be more open with the press, within acceptable limits, as part of efforts to address concerns around the potential influence of statements made outside of courtrooms while trials are ongoing.
In a statement, the PAJ said that while it acknowledged the special need for caution with jury trials in particular, and the need for general restraint in the interest of justice, it believed the approach should not be one of attorneys avoiding interaction with the media.
Rather, the PAJ suggested greater care and responsibility in public pronouncements by lawyers should be encouraged.
The issue around statements made by attorneys to the media came into sharp focus over the past week as the appeal got under way in the murder case of dancehall entertainer Vybz Kartel, whose real name is Adidja Palmer.
Attorneys involved in the case have made statements to the media and, while not pointing specifically to the Kartel case, in a letter published in The Gleaner last week, former president of the Court of Appeal, Seymour Panton, has taken notice.
In his letter, Panton called for the Bar associations and GLC to rein in attorneys "misguidedly giving interviews and making speeches on radio and television, and in the press, in respect of cases that are actually in progress before the courts of the land".