The Judicial Independence Project recently held its second seminar for professionals (judges, politicians, civil servants and journalists, amongst others) on the topic of ‘Judicial Independence, Judicial Accountability and the Media’.
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the discussion was a general acceptance by seminar participants that judges are influenced by the media in their judicial behaviour. The effect is particularly evident in sentencing: sentences have increased significantly in the last 20 years. Opinions differed as to whether this influence is a good thing. Some pointed to the success of media campaigns in overturning injustice, for example in challenging flawed expert evidence in the case of Angela Cannings and Sally Clarke. For others, the media was described as ’emotional, irrational and obsessed with the short term’ and their influence was – or could be – damaging. One example cited was of the change in the law of damages to reflect a ‘compensation culture’ that Government research has shown does not exist.
Participants also expressed concern about the recent use of parliamentary privilege to break court orders and about a more general trend of ambivalence about judicial independence in Parliament. The continuing importance of the sub judice rule was emphasised.
The seminar was run under Chatham House Rule, but we have prepared a short anonymised note of the discussion.