I may have been less visible than usual here recently, but that’s not been simple idleness – and I have been writing elsewhere, including this piece the other week on Index on Censorship about Jon Venables. I was a bit concerned that my first piece for them was about the case for restraints on free expression – but there you are. I’m a bit of a contrarian by nature so perhaps that was fitting.
We know the power of the internet to unleash the madness, as well as the wisdom, of crowds – consider the “human flesh searches” that have been reported in China. Worryingly, #findandkillvenables has been used as a hashtag on Twitter. But the injunction binds everyone. I would not advise anyone in the UK to post or tweet anything in breach of it, or to publish anything about any offence Venables may have committed. There seems to me no reason why the Attorney General should not take action against them. As far as the mainstream media are concerned, the injunction even binds the media here from disclosing Venables’s new identity and appearance even if they do appear on the web… Free expression must be exercised responsibly when an ill-judged article may be a death sentence. In a perfect world, editors would act accordingly rather than indulging in the kind of legal brinkmanship that gives our free press a bad name. But if the Attorney General has to prosecute or seek someone’s committal to prison in order to enforce their responsibility, then we should back her.
At a meeting last night some non-lawyers were asking me about Jon Venables, and the conversation reminded me just how unclear it is to most members of the public that “outing” Venables would almost certainly destroy any potential prosecution of him. The government may well think the story has blown over for the time being, but this, surely is the argument it must make if it’s to hold the tabloid mood in check.
For any prosecution to succeed, there must be a trial, and a trial has to be fair. But, even if you believe in juries as I do, it’s difficult to see how any jury can be other than strongly prejudiced against Jon Venables. It’d have been far, far better if no details of the offence he’s supposed to have committed had been published – then he could have been tried in his secret identity and fairly convicted or acquitted. That may still be possible – I hope it is. If not, the impossibility of a fair trial – let alone security concerns – may rule out prosecution altogether.
Those who want to see justice take its course against Jon Venables should be more patient, not less, about discovering the details of what he’s alleged to have done. The government needs to get that message across if this comes back to the top of the news agenda.
If an average person, not a professional or vigilante, wanted to visit him in prison, and would swear to secrecy, how could they do it? Or is it impossible? How could they write to him?
Well said! I agree entirely.
Gosh, Jade – I’ve no idea! I doubt anyone who can’t show they’re already a friend would be allowed to visit him. “Swearing” to secrecy isn’t much of a guarantee that you wouldn’t immediately tell the Sun or a vigilante gang where he is and what he looks like. Even writing to him I think would be difficult.
the tabloids haven’t been that active on this because there is no anti-government angle and (at least for the murdoch stable) top of the agenda is to get a conservative government elected in order to grab as much of the bbc turf as possible. he has already tapped up a few tories who needed very little encouragement to attack the well-known stalinist body that is the bbc. all this in pursuit of a target income of £900 per year per household in the uk. just another reason i’m hoping for a hung parliament.
.-= simply wondered´s last blog ..international women’s day – silver jubilee =-.
I understand. Despite the lack of compassion he showed his victims, I believe in compassion, loving him and not giving up on him. I guess swearing on anything isn’t much of a guarantee. No-one can help.
“I know this isn’t allowed as things stand but I want to get this changed. If I can go to court and get the ban on contact overturned then we could see each other again it would help me so much. Thommo has managed to turn his lifearound. Hes met someone and settled down. That’s all I want.”
I know the feeling