The British Attorney General recently issued a warning to newspaper editors in Britain not to prejudice any future trial in relation to the callous murder of a 25-year-old female architect in the Bristol area.

He felt the need to make such a statement after various newspapers and social networking websites began to probe every aspect of the life of a man police had arrested in connection with the crime. As one newspaper editor said, the suspect “might look a bit odd, but he has not yet been charged with anything”.

The presumption of innocence is obviously important and the lengths some go to in newspapers, though these days more particularly on the internet, is way beyond what should be acceptable in society. In just a few days the privacy of this so far innocent man – who is no longer being held by police – was exposed before a world audience. This is highly undesirable.

However, there are a few pertinent factors to consider. One, what amounts to effectively rendering that presumption useless?

Various factors come into play with regard to what is written and said as well as whether the suspect would end up before a jury, where more care must be taken, or a judge, who should be able to disregard anything he has seen or heard outside the courtroom.

What is certain is that there must be a substantial or serious prejudice – not merely a theoretical risk – before any action is taken to ban publication.

Two, what role do we want the media to play in society? To provide us with faithful reportage of what is happening is certainly a primary consideration.

But the media have another role. They can serve to generate publicity about a case where information is scant as well as highlighting the plight of individuals who have been denied justice.

The latter has certainly been the driving force behind a collective effort on behalf of the Maltese media to provide coverage for the men who allege they were victims of sexual abuse while they were boys at an orphanage in St Venera two decades ago.

It is possible to go one step further than that: Had the media not taken up the complaints of these alleged victims, their case could well have been forgotten – given that they first made their official complaint in 2003, and neither the Church’s Response Team, nor our justice system, has to date provided them with a remedy.

The priests who have been implicated have now filed a constitutional case arguing that their right to a fair trial has been prejudiced because, among other things, the media have mentioned their names on various occasions.

Though a court order was issued seven years ago banning disclosure of their identity, that was in relation to criminal charges – not in connection with the parallel investigation into the allegations conducted by the Church – and it therefore lost its effectiveness.

But beyond that, the route these priests have chosen to go down is distasteful – for it serves no purpose other than to cause more pain; for the alleged victims as well as for the Church. Have they not suffered enough already?

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