A constitution is a document that contains all the rules that the government must obey and lists all the rights that can't be taken away from citizens.
Constitutions are often called the rule book for politics, because just as in a game of football, where goals can be disallowed if the player breaks one of the rules, in politics, any law or action by the government that doesn't conform to the rules stated in the constitution, isn't valid and has no legal force.
The 'referees' of what, does and doesn't conform to the constitution are judges, if a person feels that a law is 'unconstitutional' they can take their government to court, and if the judge agrees with them, the law in question will no longer apply.
But in the UK, there's no such rulebook. There's no single document that sets out the rules which politicians and citizens must obey. So is british politics a game with no rules, where they players can do whatever they like? No. They UK does have a constitution, but one unlike any other in the world.
All other constitutions have at some time been written down, accepted by the state and been published for all to see. In Britain, the rules have evolved at different times, and have never been written down in one place. UK has an unwritten constitution.
What do constitutions do?
Constitutions define the functions, compositions and the powers of the various branches of government. The judiciary, the Executive and the LEgislature.
They also define the powers that the three branches have over each other and over citizens. In doing so, constitutions limit governments, explicitly setting out how a government must behave an what it can't do.
Constitutions vary from country to country, but there's some common elements that will be found in nearly all constitutions.
They confer sovereignty. As we have seen, sovereignty means rightful and legally held power. This is particularly important in countries like the USA, where sovereignty is split between two different levels of government, state and federal, because there needs to be some way of settling arguments as to who is in charge of what, in the UK, sovereignty is invested in Parliament alone.
In theory, the devolved institutions and even local councils could be closed down by an Act of Parliament, in other words Parliament has chosen to delegate certain powers to these sub national layers of government and could equally choose to return those powers to itself this is why britain is a Unitary state, power lies in one place-Parliament.
What do constitutions do?
Territorial extent, quite simply, constitutions state the countries name and the geographical area it covers.
Purpose of a nation, many constitutions but not the UKs obviously, as it's unwritten, start off with a few paragraphs called the preamble. Which may give a short, patriotic summary, included many economic and social rights that its 'framers' those who wrote it, knew would take a very long time to make a reality. These lists of rights were more of a statement of purpose in that sense, than legally enforceable rules.
What counts as a valid law, constitutions set out the procedure by which a law is made. This might mean, that it must be voted on by the legislature and then signed by the president. This prevents arbitrary government, that is, constitutions stop a government from simply declaring a new law. If the constitutional procedure is ignored, then the law that is created is not legally valid.
The areas in which laws can't be passed. A constitution will also set out certain areas where a law can't be passed in any circumstances. Us constitution explicitly states that no law can be passed that would require citizens to billet, provide lodgings and food for soldiers.
What do constitutions do?
A bill of rights, a bill of rights is a list of things that every citizen is entitled to and which the government isn't allowed, under any circumstances, to pass a law against or to interfere with in any other way. These rights usually include freedom or speech, freedom of assembly and habeas corpus ( a person cannot loose their freedom)
These rights all help to protect the citizen from a government becoming too strong and acting agains the interests of the people. Imagine how badly out of control a government might become if no one was allowed to criticise it, to hold a protest march, or if people could simply be thrown i jail with no reason given.
How the constitution can be changed. If politicians want to change one of the rules in the rulebook, there will be a certain procedure to achieve this. In Australia both chambers of the Parliament bust vote in favour, and a referendum must be held before the constitution can be changed. These rules are invariable more demanding than the rules for passing a law, this is to recognise that rule changes must be difficult to achieve, or else irresponsible government would be likely to make frequent and major changes which might have far reaching consequences.
Codified and Uncodified Constitution
As we've seen, the British Constitution isn't written down in one single document. However parts of the British constitution are indeed written down in various books and documents, so it wouldn't be true to say the UK has an entirely unwritten constitution.
The process of collecting together the overriding laws of a nation is often called codification and constitutions are in some places known as legal codes or civil codes. As this has never happened in the UK, we can say that the UK has an uncondified constitution it has never all been written down in one document. Of all the democracies in the world. Israel is the only other country with an uncodified constitution.
Constitutions state the procedures that must be used to change their terms, a change to a constitution is called a constitutional amendment. If it's relatively easy to make an amendment, then we might say that the constitution is flexible, if very difficult or nearly impossible, then rigid or entrenched.
Flexibility can have disadvantages. There's a danger that a government might abuse the flexibility of the constitution for its own purposes. An authoritarian government that wanted to be able to throw people it didn't like into prison, might find an excuse to remove habeas corpus. Claiming that such a change is needed to prevent crime spiralling out of control. There's a real risk in situations like this, constitution will no longer protect people.
Flexibility/ Rigid or Entrenched
On the other hand, some people believe that constitutions need to be flexible in order to respond to changes in society. A famous example of this is Article 2 of the USA constitution, which guarantees the right to own guns. With the high level of gun crime in America, there's many people who wish it were easier to change the constitution so that this clause, a section of a constitution, could be removed. This shows how hard it is to make changes to the American constitution.
A very rigid constitution will be likely to become outdated as attitudes and circumstances change, and may have to become abandoned, this nearly always causes political upheaval and strife.
On the other hand a flexible constitution will be very vulnerable to interference from governments. The point of human rights is that they apply all the time and to everyone, they are certainties that each citizen can rely on. If a constitution is too flexible then these certainties won't be protected. It's one of the most fundamental criticisms of the UK constitution, as well as being uncondified, it's not entrenched either.
Unitary and Federal Constitutions
The UK as we know, is a unitary state, all the power lies in one place the Parliament.
In some states, power is shared between more than one layer of government, national and local, in the USA these layers are known as federal and state government. States where power is shared are called federal states.
If power is separated in this way, there's a very real risk of arguments, as to who is responsible for what. Codified constitutions are vital in these circumstances, they state in black and white which powers are to be exercised by which layer of government.
A law that is passed by Parliament is also known as a statute or statute law. All the laws that have been passed by Parliament and haven't been overturned by a later law are known as the statute book. As we know, many constitutions outline areas where no law may be passed, but this is not the case in the UK. Parliament may pass any law it wishes.
To many human rights activists, the lack of any limits of what statutes can pass is dangerous. Unlike most countries where citizens have a bill of rights. British citizen don't have a single freedom or right that can't in theory be taken away by Parliament passing a law against it.
As we'll see, there are indeed examples of Parliament passing laws that restrict freedoms. There's also examples of MPs in the governing party refusing to support legislation put forward by their own party leadership. In 2005, Tony Blair's labour government introduced legislation which would have allowed terror suspects to be held for 90 days without facing any criminal charges.
Usually, the police have only a few days after they have been arrested in which to charge a person with a crime, before they must be released. Blair claimed that the police needed extra time for terror suspects, because the national security were too high to allow someone the police strongly suspected of terrorist activities to walk free.
Clearly, the proposed legislation would have removed habeas corpus, the freedom from imprisonment without a fair trial. Human rights pressure groups strongly criticised the bill. Many argued that human rights were part of the same western tradition of fairness. Which islamic terrorists were trying to destroy and that abandoning the principle of habeas corpus would in itself mark a victory for terrorists.
Despite passionate argument in favour of the bill from Tony Blair, who attempted to rally the public's support for the issue by giving press interviews, where he warned that, without the new law, the UK would be much more vulnerable to a terrorist attack, Labour MPs remained unconvinced.
Statute Law Analaysis
Many MPs were simply not convinced that the 90 day detention period would do anything to make the UK safer. If the police couldn't find any evidence with which to charge the suspect, why was that person a suspect in the first place?
The human rights implications were serious, in practice, it was likely to be young Muslim males who found themselves in prison for three months without a trial, possibly without even being told why they were held, and there was a danger that the law could be perceived as racist. Did the violent actions of a handful of Islamic terrorists really justify the tearing up of an ancient liberty?
On the 9th November 2005 the House of Commons voted on the legislation. So many Labour MPs voted against the government that the bill was defeated. This was Tony Blairs first ever Commons defeat as PM.
It showed that although in theory Parliament can pass whatever legislation it likes, in practice, the conscience of MPs provides a measure of protection against laws that would infringe human rights. Naturally the government will also consider public opinion before trying to pass a bill, after all, it has to face an election at some point. But even in between elections, the public isn't powerless against what it considers an unjust law.
Statute Law Analaysis
When Margaret Thatcher introduced the Community Charge, poll tax, in 1988, the public were so strongly against what was widely considered to be an unfair tax, that within two years, she'd been forced out of Parliament and the law had been overturned. There had been a mass refusal to pay the tax, protest marches and even riots. The subsequent scrapping of the law showed that whilst Parliament ad a free hand in theory, in practice the public can sometimes force a change.
From these historical example, we can conclude that it's a) the consciences of MPs and b) the strength of the public opinion. That safeguard people from over mighty governments in the UK. But to many human rights activists, this isn't sufficient. They argue that a codified, entrenched bill of rights is needed because it's much easier for citizens to know what their rights are when they're all in written down in one place, citizens need to be sure that their rights aren't going to be overturned. Only an entrenched bill of rights will ensure that Parliaments can't simply cancel a long held right, countries where citizens are well aware of what the government is and isn't permitted to do by the constitution will be better protected from arbitrary government.
In the UK, citizens may do whatever the law doesn't forbid them to do. As the law constantly changes, so do the right of citizens. In countries with a codified bill of rights, rights are unchanging and it's the laws which must fit in with human rights, not the other way round.
State Law Analysis
Of the six sources of the British constitution, statute law is the most important, because it can overrule and change all of the other five. Clearly this gives a great deal of power to the executive because the the executive has a very strong grip on the legislative process. The judicial branch of government serves only to implement the statutes passed by parliament, it has no power to overturn laws by finding them 'unconstitutional' as can happen in countries with a codified constitution.
Judges sometimes do criticise legislation, even though they have no power to change them. The government introduced a bill in 2008 that prevents abusive husbands from using the excuse that their wives had been unfaithful to justify their abusive actions. A senior judge criticised this proposed change in the law, but as son as it appeared on the statute book, all judged had to respect it whatever their personal feelings.
We should note that not every new law in the UK should be called a constitutional change. Some business regulations are so minor and unimportant to the vast majority of people, that we can hardly say that the rules of the political game have been altered when they're passed. Some laws have a much more major impact on the powers of and relationship between the government and the people, and these laws become part of the British constitution.
The most important of these laws
Laws affecting who can vote, these laws are name Representation of the People Acts. There were a series of these laws between 1832 and 1928 which together established the rights of every man and then woman over the age of 21 to vote, regardless of their wealth and social class. 1929 election was thus the first time in British history that every adult citizen was allowed to vote, regardless either of gender or economic circumstances. In 1968, another Representation of the People Act was passed which lowered the voting age for everyone to 18.
The 1988 Human Rights Act, Essentially this law for the first time, set out rights that British citizens had. However it would be quite wrong to claim that these rights are entrenched because there's nothing to stop Parliament overturning this Act. In 2008 Conservative party leader David Cameron suggested that if they were to win the next General Election then he would get rid of this law.
Parliament Acts, these two laws passed in 1911 and 1949, ended the House of Lords ability to veto laws that had been passed by the Commons. The Lords may still delay a bill by up to one year.
Britain joined the European Community now known as the European Union. In 1973, joining the EC meant accepting whatever laws were passed in Brussels, although Britain did have the power to veto proposed laws. When there's a clash between a law passed in parliament and a law passed by the EU, it's the European law that must take precedent.
This would suggest that EU law is more important to the British constitution than Westminster law. Many Euro-sceptics, that is people who don't like the fact that the EU has such power over british law, argue that Parliamentary statutes can no longer be said to be more important than EU laws and that, in effect, the ultimate power lies in Brussels and not in Westminster.
It would be quite possible for Parliament to pass a law to end the UK's membership, of the EU and take back all the powers that have been given to Europe. For this reason alone, British statute law is still considered paramount. It should be noted that the economic and political upheaval would be caused by pulling out of the EU would be so great and so profound that there's extremely little likelihood of this ever happening.
This source of the British constitution EU law, has undergone most change in the last 30 years, in 1987 the Single European Act gave the EU Parliament more powers to pass laws in areas that had previously been left up to national governments to decide.
Before this Act, any country in the EU that didn't like a new European law could simply veto it. This would mean that the law wouldn't be passed and wouldn't apply. This effectively helped to protect national laws from EU laws. But the 1987 Act removed the right of countries to use their vetoes in some areas, in particular, laws relating to trade and business.
The Maastricht Treaty, which became law in the UK in 1992, gave the EU greater responsibility for immigration policy, an area where previously national government were allowed to pass their own laws. This has restricted the ability of the UK government to pass laws in this area.
The UK Parliament isn't permitted to pass a law that would contradict a law already passed by the EU and British courts are obliged to accept rulings from the EU. The reality is that the EU is now an extremely important part of the UK constitution, and that it's important is likely to grow and grow in coming decades. The extreme upheaval that would be caused by withdrawal from the EU means that no major party supports it.
The UK Parliament has delegated powers to make law to the EU, just as it delegates power to local government, and the devolved institutions. Legally and constitutionally Parliament could decide to stop delegating these powers to the EU and take them back for itself. The prospects of this happened in the near future, seem to be almost zero.
Common Law is law that has been made by judges during court cases, and is therefore not found on the statute books.
Statute laws can't possible cover every possible eventuality every case brought to the courts will be slightly different in some way, and there will always be areas where the law is unclear, and so judges must make decisions about what the law means. To do this they are required to look back over previous similar cases to see what has happened in the pass:precedent.
The law should be as predictable as possible, if there's no clear precedent then the judge will have to decide what the law is intended to mean. The clearer and more comprehensive that laws are, the less room there will be for judges to create new precedents, but there will always be cases where the meaning of a statute it now absolutely clear.
Much of common law has to do with individual rights. For many centuries, judges didn't require people who were accused of a crime to answer questions form lawyers during a trial. This was the 'right to silence' which meant that a person was not obliged to effectively give evidence against themselves. When the 1994 Criminal Justice Act explicitly stated that people no longer had this right, statute law cancelled out the common law.
Until the end of the eighteenth century, a number of important powers were held by the monarch alone. These powers are known as the royal prerogative. In an increasingly democratic era, it became unacceptable for an unelected person, who would not be removed to hold these powers and they began to be handed over to the PM instead. Powers that were once held by the monarch alone are now effectively held by the PM alone.
The power to appoint and dismiss ministers. This means the PM can decide who will and won't be in the Cabinet.
The calling of elections. Codified constitutions nearly always state how often election must be held. In the UK while elections are always a maximum of five years apart, the PM can choose to hold an election at any time before the five years are up. In 1974 Labour PM Harold Wilson had only been in power for a matter of months before he called another election, he had hoped that he would increase the number of Labour MPs.
The declaration of war. As the head of the armed forces, the PM could launch a war without consulting anyone else. Going to war is such a momentous decision that PMs are keen to have as much support as possible before they do so. In 2003 Tony Blair's government organised a vote in Parliament over whether the country should go to war in Iraq. the vote passed and the invasion went ahead. But had the vote failed, the PM would still have been able to choose to go ahead with the invasion because he holds the royal prerogative.
The signing of treaties. Treaties are agreements made with foreign governments. Over recent years, most UK treaties have been with its fellow member states of the EU. In 1992, John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty, which handed more powers from London to Brussels. On this occasion, the PM at the time did hold a vote in the House of Commons on the issue, but not because he was constitutionally obliged to. He simply wanted to be able to say that he had the support of the legislature. Had the vote been lost, Major would still have had the power to sign the treaty.
The giving of honours. Knighthoods and ennoblements are given out by the PM. Many times, they're given as rewards for services to politics or the life of the nation. This is one prerogative that hasn't entirely been taken away from the monarch: the Queen retains the right to confer a very small number of honours herself, including one very high honour called the Order of Merit.
The removal of foreign nationals. If the PM decides that a non British person would be an unwelcome or dangerous presence, they can either be thrown out of the country, or not allowed to enter in the first place. In 2009, Dutch politician Geert Wilders was banned from entering the UK because the government believed his extreme anti Islam views would make him a threat to public security. While PMs hold this royal prerogative, they usually ask the Home Secretary to exercise it on their behalf.
These important powers have their roots in Britain's past, when a king or queen rules the country, but since the monarch is now a purely ceremonial figure, the traditional powers have passed to the PM.
Conventions are accepted ways of doing things. Over the centuries, a number of accepted ways of doing things in Parliament have become so well established and well respected, that they have become part of the UK constitution.
Now law has been passed that means the government is legally obliged to stick to these conventions but they're considered so important that they are unlikely to be abolished by statuses. The major constitutional conventions in the UK are:
The PM must sit in Parliament. Since 1963, it's been recognised that the PM must sit in the House of Commons where he or she can be questioned and debate with other elected Parliamentarians.
The PM is the leader of whichever party or coalition of parties has an absolute majority in the House of Commons.
The monarch will sign any law presented for royal assent, and will accept the advice of ministers. This convention effectively guarantees that the monarch is a purely ceremonial Head of State who exercises no real political power.
All bills to do with money, raising and spending taxes, must originate in the House of Commons. This prevents the unelected House of Lords from trying to pass tax altering measures.
The House of Lords will not block the government's annual budget, this extremely important bill sets out how the government will raise and spend taxes over the coming year. Without it, the government has no legal right to collect taxes.
Salisbury convention. Named after Lord Salisbury, who helped to outline the meaning of the convention in the mid twentieth century. The convention states that the House of Lords, being unelected, won't block a government bill that fulfils a promise made in the government's manifesto.
The Speaker won't be challenged by another party at election time. To provide neutral and non partisan chairmanship of debates in the House of Commons, whichever MP is appointed Speaker isn't allowed to get involved in party political matters or express opinions on legislations.
In return, none of the other parties will stand a candidate in the Speaker's constituency at a General Election, which guarantees that the Speaker will be re elected without having to participate in party politics.
This convention was broken in 2005 by the Scottish Nationalist Party, when it stood a candidate in the Glasgow constituency of Speaker Michael Martin The other parties criticised the SNP for doing this, but as conventions aren't part of statute law, they're not legally enforceable and there was little that could be done to prevent it. This incident highlights the fact that conventions are entirely reliant on the goodwill of MPs. Conventions are only as strong as the will that exists to respect them.
Since the advent of devolution, Parliament has developed another convention: The Westminster Parliament won't pass laws on matters that have been delegated to the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly, non reserved matters.
Works and Documents of Authority
The final source of the UK constitution is written. Over the centuries, a number of documents have become so well respected that they're now considered a part of the constitution. Of all the sources, perhaps the works and documents of authority are the least firm and well defined.
The principles they contain are often rather vague, and to some extent, it's the popular and romantic conception of these documents rather than their actual wording that make them important.
The oldest of the documents is Magna Carta. A thirteenth century monarch, King John, had severely upset powerful aristocrats in the kingdom by not respecting their rights, levying punitive taxes and generally running the country in a way that threatened to lead to disaster. One of British history's least popular figures King John was forced in 1215, by a group of his baron's to agree to protect certain rights, by putting his seal the equivalent of a signature, onto Magna Carta. Four copies of the document remain, and some of the most important parts of it state:
'No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned.. but by lawful judgement of his Peers or by the Law of the Land' ' We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right'
Works and Documents of Authority
The significance of Magna Carta is that for the first time a British King was forced to recognise that he must obey certain rules and couldn't just order whatever he liked. This is why some people have argues that Magna Carta is the founding document of limited government. To be sure. Magna Carta is not a document that MPs use on a regular basis in their legislative work, but they do frequently refer to its principle of a limited government that respects the freedoms of individuals.
The following three following documents are laws that have become so integral to the UK that they're considered unchangeable and irreversible, which is of course not the case for other statutes that can simple be overturned by another statute.
Act of Settlement 1701. This was the Act which set in place the rules for royal succession, the eldest son of the monarch will be first in line to the throne, it's terms have been used for centuries to decide who the rightful monarch is.
Laws in Wales Acts were a series of Acts in the sixteenth century that brought Wales under English control.
Acts of Union 1707. These made Scotland, by mutual agreement, a part of the UK.
Works and Documents of Authority
Bills of Rights 1689. Despite the name, this is NOT a bill of rights in the same sense that we've been discussing earlier. in 1689, Britain had undergone a tumultuous period which saw a prolonged and bloody civil war, the execution of one king and the overthrow of another. A major part of the trouble stemmed from the unwillingness of the kings to accept the role of Parliament in creating laws and raising taxes, the kings had believed they had the God given right to rule on their own as they pleased.
Parliament invited William and Mary to come from Holland to become king and queen, and the Bill of Rights was in effect a letter to them, telling them that they must govern with the consent of the people, by which they meant Parliament if being the body that represented the people. The Bill of Rights established the principle of constitutional monarchy that is the principle that there were certain limits on the powers of the monarch, which bound him or her to work with Parliament.
A.V. Dicey. Dicey was a lawyer in the nineteenth century who wrote about the British constitution. He set out the principle of the Rule of Law the idea that all laws should apply equally to everyone regardless of who they were.
Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. Again, these documents are statutes that are so important to the way British politics works that they're considered unchangeable. The first Parliament Act stated that, the House of Lords may not block a bill that's been voted on and passed by the House of Commons three times for more than 2 years. The second Act reduced this time to a single year.
Role of the Monarch
Ever since the Bill of Rights was agreed to by William and Mary in 1689, the monarchy was accepted that Parliament has a significant and permanent role in government. From that date onwards, the power of Parliament over the monarchy has steadily increased, as the idea that legitimate power came from inherited power was gradually replaced in people's minds with the idea that democracy is what makes government legitimate.
The right to be consulted. This means that the monarch must always be kept up to date with what the government is doing. To fulfil this right, the Queen is sent copies of all important government documents. The PM also traditionally meets with the Queen once a week to inform her of the latest developments in politics.
The right to advise. In her weekly meetings, the Queen is free to offer the PM whatever advice she wishes. This doesn't mean that the PM is in any way bound to follow the advice. The secrecy that surround the private meeting between the Head of State and her Head of Government means that there's little way to know what advice the Queen has given over the years and whether or not that advice has been listened to.
The right to warn. We don't know whether the Queen exercises her right to warn the PM about what the government is doing, but we do know that the monarch has the right to tell the PM that she doesn't agree with the government's actions.
Parliamentary Sovereignty means that final legal authority lies in one place. Parliament. It means that Parliament can pass any law it wants to. The courts can't strike down or remove any law that has been passed by Parliament and ministers can only carry out their duties in line with laws passed by Parliament.
This makes the legislative branch of government the most powerful of all.
To protect Parliament's ultimate power, each Parliament isn't allowed to pass any legislation that would be binding on its successors. Parliament is allowed to overturn any laws that it has previously made. It's easy to see that Parliaments can in some way bind their successors.
If a Parliament commits itself to a long term spending commitment, it may well be very hard for a new Parliament to overturn the commitment without wasting a lot of money. While any Parliament could in theory pass a law which withdrew the UK from the European Union, in practice this would be so difficult and momentous that it's unlikely to occur. As we have seen, Parliament may have the legal power to do as it pleases, but in reality, the wishes of the people must be considered, otherwise, they may rebel and refuse to accept the law. Poll tax is an example of this.
On the other hand, there are plenty of occasions where Parliament made a decision despite massive protests from citizens. Parliament gave its assent to the 2003 Iraq war, despite enormous protest marches against it.
There's also questions about whether the relationship between the legislature and the executive, between Parliament and the government means that Parliamentary Sovereignty isn't as solid and real as it appears.
Unlike some countries in which the executive and legislature are strictly separated, with rules in the constitution that ban anybody from being members of both bodies at the same time, every single member of the UK government can therefore use its position at the heart of the legislature to completely control which laws are passed. Some have argues that it's not Parliament that is sovereign, but the government. As the PM is often able to enforce his or her will on the rest of the government, some have even argue that at times, it's the PM who holds sovereignty.
The rule of Law
The second pillar of the UK constitution is the Rule of Law. A.V. Dicey described exactly what is meant by the Rule of Law.
Every person is subjected to the same law. VIPs and royals are under the same legal obligations as everyone else. If two people, one very rich and powerful, another poor and unknown, commit the same crime then they should both be punished in the same way.
Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Just as set down in Magna Carta and by common law, no person should be put in prison or punished in any way until it has been shown in court that they have committed a crime. This protects unpopular minorities or individuals from being persecuted by the state.
Judges must be neutral and independent. To make sure that they above two principled of the Rule of Law are maintained, it's considered vital that judges don't get involved in politics, or show favour to any person.
The rule of law is sometimes said to be undermined by the media. If, before a trial has begun the media publishes details about a suspect who's been arrested in a way that makes them look guilty, then jurors who are assigned to the case may come to the courtroom with their minds made up. This is sometimes called 'trial by media' and judges usually warn jurors that they shouldn't read newspaper reports of the trial whilst it's going on.