The media often have a difficult relationship with the law. Complexity, ambiguity tedium – all combine to prevent readers from fully coming to terms with a case.
Within the last 48 hours, however, I’ve witnessed three contesting approaches.
The first is this week’s Macleans which is unprecedented in giving over 50% of its space to People v. Conrad Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, the major criminal trial taking place this month in Chicago. Of course it’s factually a juicy case with larger than life protagonists.
For me one of the most interesting parts was the sharp contrasts drawn between the Canadian approach to criminal procedure, including the Stinchcombe dynamics of Crown disclosure, the role of oral advocacy and the pace of the trial and how it affects preparation – and the American approach. Trial by ambush is still accepted in the US it seems. Eddie Greenspan is having to play by a very different set of rules.
My second case is Regina v. Robert William Pickton, currently being tried before Mr. Justice Williams and a BC jury. I won’t comment on the substance but was fascinated to see that the Justice Ministry has assembled a set of web pages to guide the media in the reporting of the case with detailed explanations of the case [PDF], the various publication bans and lengthy explanations of the media accreditation process. I’ve never seen anything like this in Canada though there might have been something similar in the Air India prosecution. It seems to have been more designed in the expectation that we were going to have another spectacle like the OJ Simpson or Michael Jackson trials.
Finally, the late Lillian Ross was one of the stars of the New Yorker. Its archive is featuring her movie profiles. The most charming for me is an account of Otto Preminger v. Columbia Pictures and Screen Gems, in which and injunction hearing in a contract dispute is dramatized as a screenplay. It’s beautifully written and the dynamics of the courtroom are beautifully captured. Reminiscent of Sybille Bedford and Rebecca West at their finest.