Zurich High Court wrongly excluded journalists from trial

Success for Zurich journalists: Tages-Anzeiger, NZZ, SRF-Regionaljournal and the news agency SDA have won justice in the Federal Court. They were unjustly excluded from a trial before Zurich's higher court.


The accredited journalists from the Tages-Anzeiger, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Radio SRF's "Regionaljournal Zürich-Schaffhausen" and the SDA news agency had appealed to the Federal Supreme Court because they had been excluded from a trial in November 2015 and February 2016. Unanimously, the judges in Lausanne have now approved their complaint in no uncertain terms. In a public deliberation on Wednesday, the Federal Supreme Court clearly stated that the Zurich High Court had violated the principle of judicial publicity as well as the freedom of the media and information with its actions.

One of the federal judges described the actions of the Zurich High Court as "cabinet justice in the classical sense". And the president of the First Public Law Division clearly said that it was unacceptable for one professional group to sabotage the work of another.

Protection of victims and children

The high court justified the exclusion of the public and the accredited media on the grounds that the victim and his two children could be retraumatized by renewed reporting. It was important not to shake the unstable condition of the man and to ensure the untroubled development of the children. Their interests should be given greater weight than the public's participation in the trial.

In the said trial, the victim's wife and mother of the two children was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for attempted murder. Her lover must serve 13 years behind bars. The wife allegedly made the lover attack her husband during an evening walk. The High Court informed the public of its decision at the end of October 2016 after the trial. The verdict in this regard is not yet final.

Guardians of justice

In their remarks, the federal judges underscored the fundamental importance of the media as watchdogs over the judiciary. They had a bridging function between the judiciary and the public. Even with the coverage of trials, the public gets only a very limited insight into criminal proceedings. Everything that happens beforehand takes place for the most part behind closed doors. Compared to other trials open to the public, the federal judges could not find any reasons why the exclusion of the public would have been inappropriate in this case.

The Supreme Court will now have to make the reasoned judgment available to the accredited journalists. The Federal Supreme Court refrains from informing the media about the course of the appeal hearing in October last year.

No novelty

This is not the first time that the Zurich courts have tried to restrain the media. For example, in connection with the proceedings on the Kristallnacht tweet, a single judge had forbidden the court reporters to publish the name, age, address of the Internet blog and other details under threat of a fine. Two of the journalists involved took the case all the way to the Federal Supreme Court and were proven right. The Lausanne judges ruled that the legal basis for the corresponding instruction was lacking. Another similar case was brought before the Zurich District Court. During the trial of a top manager who had sexually assaulted prostitutes, the court forbade the publication of evidence that would have made it possible to identify the man. (SDA)

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