Another public authority in Spain, in this case judicial and not political, decided on Monday that it is best to close everything off to journalists and that society should neither see nor know anything about what is happening inside. Instead of regional governments and hospitals during the Covid pandemic, or the Ministry of Defense and what happened this summer with the mission to Afghanistan, today it was a judge at the Provincial Court in Huelva (Andalusia).
After the family's lawyer requested it all happen behind closed doors, the defendant's lawyer, the regional government's lawyer and even the Public Prosecutor's Office all said they thought that was a good idea and the judge let the jury think about it for all of 10 minutes, at the same time as they were told to choose their foreman, before ordering the trial closed. What were the lay jurors supposed to decide, when all of the lawyers in the room said that was what they wanted and the judge did not object?
Nothing shall be known about a trial for murder, the most serious crime of them all. At this hour late on Monday evening, what happened there today and what is going to happen there tomorrow is a news black hole. We do not even know if the jury's decision was unanimous, if the judge just accepted it as it was, or what his justifications were. The explanation is supposedly coming tomorrow in a court document.
Neither will we be able to find out anything about what the witnesses, both ordinary citizens and Civil Guard or Police officers, say, or what they did or didn't do during the investigation until the defendant was arrested, or anything about the row that took place at the time between the Civil Guard and forensic scientists about the time of the time of death of the victim and everything that information might lead to.
There are many types of journalism, an abundance of formats. The superficial live morning TV shows with their repetitive images are not the same as the rigorous newswire reports from Europa Press or EFE, and they are different from enlightened columns in print newspapers.
You cannot close off a whole murder trial to society just because the technology of 2021 allows TV media to frequently abuse the possibilities it allows for. Well, I say you can't. A judge just did.
In this case, there will be nothing coming out of that courtroom. Zero. Not even reporters in court with pencils and notebooks to tell us about it later in dispatches or articles.
Both the Huelva Press Association and the national FAPE federation have condemned the order, but if all the lawyers, the regional government, the Prosecutor's Office, the jury and the judge have all decided together that they want to close off the entire trial, I would say there is not much chance of a formal appeal from anyone (journalists, associations, citizens) because we are not part of the trial itself.
Imagine if all the parties to all the trials agreed that it was better to keep it all behind closed doors, for everything to be secret, and that no one should know anything until they were all done, and then it will be their version of History. That is how things happen in North Korea, not in our modern democracies.
1. The trial for the murder of Laura Luelmo has just begun in Huelva (Andalusia). The judge begins by raising the issue of media coverage to the jury. The lawyers present their arguments. All sides want the whole trial to be held behind closed doors.
2. The presiding judge in the trial for the murder of Laura Luelmo has already suspended the first session. He has sent the jury to weigh the issue of media coverage of the entire trial for 10 minutes. Lawyers and Prosecutor's Office want it all to be behind closed doors.
3. If the jury comes back in 10 minutes and says no to everything, journalism with the trial for the murder of Laura Luelmo is over before it begins. This would be a scandal. What are they going to vote if lawyers, Attorney's Office and Prosecutor all want it behind closed doors?
4. Regional High Court announces in a brief message in WhatsApp journalists group that the judge has said the whole trial will be behind closed doors. “Yes. We've been told it's behind closed doors”. No more details at this time but they've already cut the live feed off.
5. Have spoken to @fape_fape about the Huelva court's decision to hold the entire trial for the murder of Laura Luelmo behind closed doors. No access of any kind for any journalist. A statement must first be issued by @prensahuelva, the local press association.
6. Huelva Press Association issues a statement on the "news blackout" ordered by the judge in the Laura Luelmo murder trial. The association "condemns the decision" which they consider to be a “grave error” for democracy. A life sentence is at stake "in the dark".
7. @prensahuelva: “The fact that a trial of enormous social interest and in which a life sentence is sought is happening 'in the dark' in a decision taken on the morning of trial itself is a 'grave affront'” to democracy.
8. @prensahuelva: “The Press Association will remain vigilant of the reasons the judge must explain in a specific court order to allow an exception from the rule and will consult with FAPE legal services about the possibility of appeal”. Who would they appeal that to?
9. The Wolf-Pack rape trial in Pamplona was almost all behind closed doors, except for the final statements from lawyers, to protect the victim, but it was a tribunal of judges, not a jury, and the media was notified weeks in advance, not the same morning the trial began.
10. In Almería, for the trial of Quezada in 2019 for the murder of Gabriel Cruz, the judge ordered closed doors for the testimony of the parents, the grandmother and the forensic doctors, but the rest of the trial with witness testimony and cross-examination was normal.
12. This is what it looked like at the court in Huelva this morning as the judge instructed the jury to consider a closed door trial for the murder of Laura Luelmo. All parties want it to be secret: lawyers, regional government lawyer, public prosecutor.
13. Lawyer for Laura Luelmo's parents: “If the trial is not public, they have no right to information”. He ended with an argument of authority: “The presiding judge has already informed you that all parties agree” [on secrecy of trial].