From virtual reality to virtual justice

Legal precedent will be set when film director Roman Polanski gives evidence in an English court via video link from a Paris hotel room in order to avoid the risk of extradition to the US.

    Claimants may no longer have to turn up at court in the UK

    England's highest court ruled on Thursday the 71-year-old should be allowed to sue the publishers of US magazine Vanity Fair for libel over a child sex offence from the safety of France. 

    Polanski's lawyers say it will be the first time a libel claimant has given evidence at his trial via video link, in effect a kind of virtual trial. 

    In a decision that surprised legal experts, the Law Lords overturned an earlier ruling by the Court of Appeal that Polanski should live by the "normal processes of the law" and come to England to take the witness stand. 

    Polanski's legal team at the House of Lords said the decision would be widely interpreted as the next step towards the "virtual trial". 

    Happy and relieved

    "I am happy and relieved with the House of Lords judgment today," Polanski said in a statement issued through his lawyers. "I feel very strongly about the allegations published about me, which cannot remain uncorrected." 

    Vanity Fair publishers Conde Nast said they would pursue the case despite the three-two majority decision. 

    "I feel very strongly about the allegations published about me, which cannot remain uncorrected" 

    Roman Polanski

    "The ruling does not affect the substance of the case, which is likely to be heard in several months' time and which is being vigorously defended by Vanity Fair." 

    Polanski has issued libel proceedings against Conde Nast.

    According to opinions of the Law Lords made public on Thursday, a Vanity Fair article in 2002 said Polanski propositioned a woman in a New York restaurant when he stopped there on the way to the funeral of his actress wife, Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969. 

    Case latest

    In fact, both sides in the case now accept that Polanski was not at the restaurant en route to the funeral, but was there within weeks of the murder. He denies the reported incident. 

    "Our case is that this incident never happened at all," his solicitors said. Polanski's lawyers said actress Mia Farrow, who was with Polanski in the restaurant when the alleged incident reported by Vanity Fair took place, might also testify. 

    Oscar winner Polanski has been wanted in the US since 1977 after pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He then fled for France and has never been back. 

    If he comes to Britain to pursue his libel action he faces possible extradition to the US. He cannot be extradited from his native France for the crime. 

    SOURCE: Reuters


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