Thursday, 20 October 2016

Hanging Cheds & The Court of Public Opinion

The court of public opinion has no fixtures, it doesn’t even have warned lists, instead its sittings are unannounced, unexpected and often unnecessary.  It is also an unusual court because its jury is not confined to 12 in number but instead has no limit.  There is no judge, no usher, no clerk.  Rights of audience are granted to anybody with Internet access.  Its most significant peculiarity is that there are no rules of evidence save one: all opinion is admissible.

The ferocity of the firestorm of opinion generated by the Ched Evans acquittal has, even by the exceptionally high and cacophonous standards of modern outrage, been astonishing.  Some of that opinion has been well informed; very much has not.  We have not heard from the jurors involved, the barristers or the judges and it is highly like that we will not.  For those of us that did not sit through every day of two trials by jury and hearings in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) we are reliant on the accuracy and completeness of newspaper reporting.

If you are a legal blogger a quick way to gain an audience is to be one of the first to offer commentary on whatever is the high profile case of the day.  Many of my peers are both swift and skilled in this regard.  In my estimation they perform a valuable unpaid public service offering interpretation and commentary to legal matters that enable readers to turn to sources other than newspapers and media websites so that they can understand better the issues involved.

I am often slow to blog on topical cases.  There are a number of reasons for this.  A practical reason is that being topical requires prioritising blog writing often in the midst of professional commitments which plainly must come first.  A second reason is the difficulty of being informed.  As a lawyer, obviously, the hope and expectation is that I am informed on the law and if I am not I know how to become knowledgeable.  But it is the facts that can be so difficult.  Newspaper reporting of trials, even as high profile as Ched Evans’, necessarily contains a tiny fraction of what is actually said and shown in evidence.

Therefore in this blog I do not seek to comment on whether the verdict in this case was right or wrong, surprising or expected.  I do have the strongest possible feelings about Mr Evans’ conduct that night and believe that I would shun and censure any relative or friend who behaved similarly.

If you want to read some useful, insightful and informed commentary on it I commend; Matthew Scott (this time in The Telegraph ) and Nicholas Diable.

If you are inclined to offer your opinion don’t let me stop you.  All I will say is that I would be very slow to venture my thoughts on the outcome of complex surgery without undertaking an enormous amount of research and reading first.  Hard cases make bad law is an expression all lawyers are familiar with to which the social media coda is that ignorance makes for bad opinions.