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‘Irresponsible’ article raises concerns | Media’s latitude in major case weighing in balance?

The building that houses the High Court in Road Town, Tortola.

The future of the media’s coverage into the high-profile court case involving three interdicted police officers on conspiracy to steal charges might become affected in light of a potentially defamatory publication by a local online media entity.

The publication in question was posted on January 27, days after the High Court trial started. The headline of the article read: Trial of 3 Dirty RVIPF Cops Commences in High Court — Lead Prosecutor John Black QC said men were out to enrich selves.

Concerns about the publication were raised on Tuesday by one of the attorneys representing the accused cops – Pamphill Prevost, Simon Power and Shawn Henry.

Irresponsible journalism?

As the attorney indirectly challenged whether responsible journalism was employed, the court was told that there were parts of the publication that was not fit for public consumption and had the potential of prejudicing the trial and the nine-member jury.

The use of the words ‘dirty RVIPF cops’ was another sticking point raised; considering the legal premise that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

In response, Justice Rajiv Persad instructed the Prosecution to write to local media houses on the matter. He further instructed them to provide him with a copy of the publication in question so that he can make a determination.

It is not immediately clear what the judge will be deciding on once he reviews the publication.

These developments follow a 2015 court order in which publishers of local media entities with online capabilities were told to disable all commentaries on articles about cases that are under deliberation in the High Court. Notwithstanding, the aforesaid media entity in question has kept its blogs open for the case.

About the case

Prevost, Power, and Henry are charged in relation to incidents that allegedly happened between January 2012 to July 2014.

The trio is collectively charged with ‘conspiracy to steal’ while Prevost and Power are jointly charged with ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice’.

Power stands as the only member among the trio charged with ‘acquisition, possession or use of proceeds of criminal conduct’.

Attorney Patrick Thompson represents Prevost, Queen’s Counsel Ian Wilkinson represents Henry, while attorney-at-law Israel Bruce represents Power.

On the Crown’s side, Queen’s Counsel John Black is the lead prosecutor in this case.

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4 Comments

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  1. BVI lawyer says:

    Whilst the court is right to be concerned that local online news media does not prejudice the conduct of the trial, it feels like they are missing the bigger point.

    What people are saying in online news media is nothing compared to the comments that circulate widely on WhatsApp around the community. Those are much more direct and focussed comments, made by people within a trusted group (your contacts). That feels like a much higher risk of prejudice if a juror was to read those WhatsApps.

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  2. baldheaded says:

    Oh boy! That tabloid site again?

  3. Reply says:

    I believe in freedom of speech and of the press. However, both freedoms comes with tremendous responsibilities. One cannot say any and everything they want, as doing so can have real life consequences.

    I saw that headline in question, and my first thought was that it was highly prejudicial against the accused. Why? It assumed the cops were guilty before they were even convicted of anything. For God’s sake, the trial is ongoing.

    Labeling the cops “dirty” was and is saying they are guilty of crimes.

    Everyone accused of a crime cops or otherwise should be assumed innocent until proven otherwise in a court of law. Who is guilty or innocent of a crime is not the job of the press; it’s the courts.

    That headline was and is highly irresponsible and prejudicial journalism in my view even more so as this case is ongoing with sitting jurors.

    It has the potential to taint those jurors opinion of those accused. A sitting juror reading that headline could conclude that if that publication said they are “dirty” cops then they have to be, rather than making that decision based on the evidence being presented in court.

    That’s where the danger comes in; that what’s makes such a headline prejudicial and quite frankly irresponsible.

    Reputable journalist and media should not presume guilt on any accused. In doing so, they are circumventing the very system that is in place to determine guilt or innocence.

    If someone is convicted of a crime because jurors were influenced by a determination of guilt made in the news, then that person’s conviction is potentially tainted.

    Likewise, if a truly guilty person gets off because a juror voted in defiance to what they read, or the person got convicted and that conviction was overturned because of proven undue influence on jurors by what they read, then justice would not have been served.

    So, while I believe in freedom of the press and speech, it is essential that whatever is said/written be done so responsibly.

    If the alleged “dirty” cops are convicted, and they can prove on appeal that their conviction was tainted by press coverage, they will have that headline to thank.

    I personally think that article and headline should be retracted. Does the media in question has the integrity to do so?

  4. wize up says:

    those guys betrayed the very oath they took and the trust of the public(talk dat)….

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