Publicity in courts-martial

There has been a discussion about access to court dockets by the media, practitioners, educators, and the public to information about on-going courts-martial.  For example here is a piece on CAAFLog.  While I have been a supporter of transparency, I from time to time wish we could do as other common law countries do about pretrial publicity in criminal cases – which is generally not much.

We go through a lot of handwringing, black markers, and sealing of documents to protect the names of victims of sexual assault for example.  Yet we pay scant regard for the privacy and rights of the individual accused.  Rarely do we see the media flurry and retractions when the accused is found not guilty.  Yet how does that accused put his life back in the box after an acquittal?  

So it’s with interest I have noted two New Zealand court-martial cases – here and here.

In the first the accused is not named.  While he’s is not likely to escape sanction even if acquitted, he has a much better chance of recovering some of his life and honor if he is acquitted because the media and zealots haven’t tried him and found him guilty.

In the second, the news item said, “As the evidence relating to the charge is sub judice, no further information relating to the charge or the ranks and names of the personnel involved will be promulgated at this time.”  Here again the accused has some privacy and in the event of an acquittal will be far better off as to his general reputation.  Again he won’t be tried by the media.  Gosh, imagine the voir-dire in this case about pretrial publicity – NONE.  Yet all of these high visibility court-martial cases tried in the media are loaded with media issues. 

By the way, the “suppression” applies equally to the police in other countries.  Which is important.  Duke lacrosse comes to mind as the glaring example.

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