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Gagging order 'first' delays reporting of murder trial evidence

The Guernsey Press and Star was forced to delay the reporting of evidence given in a murder trial after a gagging order never before imposed on the island was made.

The newspaper failed in a bid to prevent the reporting restriction, under section 84 of the Police Powers and Criminal Evidence Law, 2003, which the judge made because of the possible effect on witnesses.

The Press and Star joined Guernsey news broadcasters in opposing the order, arguing that the order was unnecessary and misdirected.

But the judge said that the defendant would not get a fair trial if a large number of witnesses were able to read what evidence had been given by others.

Prosecution counsel said the “high readership” of the Guernsey Press meant witnesses might be tainted before giving their own evidence.

Counsel for the paper said preventing the daily reporting of witness evidence in the trial “did not strike the right balance between the competing interests of a right to a fair trial and the need to protect freedom of speech”, both of which are included in the European Convention on Human Rights.

In reporting the ban, the Press and Star said it was the first time such a move had been made in Guernsey, although the UK had far more experience of these orders.

It said that although the media application had failed to prevent the order being imposed, it resulted in the draft prepared by the prosecution being substantially revised.

The Press and Star has now published evidence heard at the trial, with a footnote detailing that this had been delayed by almost a week because the trial judge had upheld a request from the defence and prosecution not to allow it to happen the following day, as is normal, because of fears of witnesses being tainted.