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Report No. 200

(8) Criticism of witnesses:

The same authors refer to the following cases (ibid p 155):

Witnesses may be deterred if they become the object of public criticism. In R v. Bottomley, (1908) Times, 19th Dec., one Horatio Bottomley, a Member of Parliament, was on trial for conspiracy to defraud. He was the editor of a newspaper. The newspaper of the accused described the cross-examination as 'relentless cross-examination' and commented on the prosecution witness. It was held that the article interfered with a fair hearing because it held up the witnesses for the prosecution to 'public opprobrium' if the witness was described as "an unhappy man, writhing in the of their relentless cross-examination". Such comments tended to prejudice the prosecution case and also deter future witnesses.

As a general rule, adverse comment upon a witness should be avoided since such comment can only add to the general reluctance of witnesses to appear in Court (R v. Castro Onslow's and Whalley's case, (1873) LR 9 QB 219) (R v. Daily Herald ex p Bishop of Norwich, 1932 (2) ICB 402).

Discrediting witnesses is also prejudicial to a trial. In Labouchere, ex p Columbus Co. Ltd. (1901) 17 TLR 578, an article was published in Truth which attacked a certain witness and even discredited the character of the witness. Bruce J stated:

"Looking at the whole of the article in question, he could not doubt that it was calculated to imply that Cowen was not a witness to be relied upon, that it held him up as a person whose conduct was to be condemned and that it might prejudice the mind of any juryman against Cowen, who happened to read it"

In another case, there was a publication that a witness was being paid by a national newspaper, the amount being contingent upon the final outcome of the case. Contempt prosecution followed: see AG v. New Statesman and Nation Publishing Co.Ltd.: 1980 (1) All ER 644.

Trial by Media free speech and fair trial under Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 Back

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