Sanctity of the court and press freedom are bedfellows
I do not wish to prolong the debate on the Hampton principal’s reported actions at the court hearing for the reverend charged for sexual abuse of a child, but it does offer an opportunity for us to review the law on some important and fundamental legal principles.
It does not appear to be well known that the law very specifically prohibits the photographing of prisoners while in court or as they enter and leave the court. This is stipulated in Section 33 of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act.
There is very good reason for this. Citizens should be free to enter and leave the court without interference. Individuals charged with criminal offences and who are held in custody should not be subjected to undue pressure or prejudice; no matter how high or low in society they fall. The presumption of innocence which our constitution guarantees should not be undermined or downgraded by images which convey, even unintentionally, the certainty of guilt. Individuals charged with offences should be allowed to make the decision whether to admit guilt or defend their innocence based on all the facts.
The sanctity of the court should not be invaded even while we protect press freedom. These two treasured principles complement rather than oppose each other. This is also the reason even in civil cases, you are not allowed to serve documents on a party when he or she is attending court.
All of this may understandably be submerged in the outrage and sometimes salacious interest that members of the public experience when crimes in which sexual misconduct or involving crimes against children or gruesome violence are alleged. But those of us who have a special responsibility to protect the rule of law such as lawyers, the press and the police must rise above this.
I make no comment on the guilt or innocence of the reverend who is charged for an undoubtedly serious offence. But I will say that if the report of the principal blocking the photographer is accurate, then perhaps without even realising it, she was in fact helping the photographer to stay within legal bounds and doing the job of the police.