Volume 75, Number 5

November 2000

You Say “Fair Trial” and I Say “Free Press”: British and American Approaches to Protecting Defendants’ Rights in High Profile Trials

Joanne Armstrong Brandwood

The United States and Britain share a deep commitment to guaranteeing fair trials, but Joanne Brandwood argues in this Note that neither country effectively protects the rights of criminal defendants from the dangers posed by prejudicial publicity. She maintains that in Britain, because of loopholes in the law and pressures from modem media technology, harsh restrictions on the press unacceptably impinge on freedom of expression without adequately protecting defendants’ rights. In the United States, courts have powerful tools with which to guarantee fair trials without sacrificing First Amendment values; but trial courts often fail to deploy these protective measures, and appellate courts are extremely reluctant to challenge trial judges’ assessments of prejudice. Brandwood concludes that the most effective strategy for reconciling the conflict between the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression combines British presumptions about publicity and American jury controls with effective restrictions on extrajudicial statements made by those most likely to prejudice criminal trials: attorneys and law enforcement officials.