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PAJ urges balanced approach to issue of lawyers talking to the press

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) has expressed concern about the controversy around whether lawyers should give interviews and talk to the media during criminal trials in particular.

The concern comes amid the widely publicised case of dancehall star Vybz Kartel (Adidja Palmer) and his co-appellants seeking to have a 2014 conviction for the 2011 murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams overturned at the Court of Appeal in downtown, Kingston.

The PAJ in a release this afternoon said it is well aware of the critical importance of ensuring that the constitutional right of the accused to a fair trial is maintained, but points out that other rights are engaged here, including the right to freedom of expression, and the right of the public to seek and receive information.

The PAJ said that the General Legal Council 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,” she added.

“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,” she said, adding that: “It is difficult for the public to trust a system it does not understand.”

The PAJ said several possibilities which the legal profession may wish to consider are media training for lawyers, and also encouraging prosecutors as well as defence attorneys to be more open with the press, within acceptable limits.

It also acknowledged the special need for caution with jury trials in particular, and the need for general restraint in the interests of justice.

However, the association said it believes that the approach should not be one of avoiding interaction with the media, but rather, encouraging more care and responsibility in public pronouncement.

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