Why a New Yorker Story on a Notorious Murder Case Is Blocked in Britain

The New Yorker magazine published a 13,000 word article on Monday about one of Britain’s biggest recent criminal trials, that of the neonatal nurse Lucy Letby, who was convicted last year of the murder of seven babies.

The article, by the staff writer Rachel Aviv, poses substantial questions about the evidence relied on in court. And it raises the possibility that Ms. Letby, vilified in the media after her conviction, may be the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice.

But, to the consternation of many readers in Britain, the article can’t be opened on a regular browser there, and most news outlets available in Britain aren’t describing what is in it.

The New Yorker deliberately blocked the article from readers in Britain because of strict reporting restrictions that apply to live court cases in England. A publication that flouts those rules risks being held “in contempt of court,” which can be punished with a fine or prison sentence.

Neither The New Yorker nor its parent company, Condé Nast, responded to requests for comment on Thursday. Earlier in the week, a spokesperson for the magazine told Press Gazette, the British trade publication, “To comply with a court order restricting press coverage of Lucy Letby’s ongoing trial, The New Yorker has limited access to Rachel Aviv’s article for readers in the United Kingdom.”

Under English law, restrictions apply to the reporting of live court proceedings, to prevent a jury’s being influenced by anything outside the court hearing. After Ms. Letby’s sentencing in August last year, those restrictions were lifted. But they were reimposed in September, when the public prosecutor for England and Wales announced that it would seek a retrial on one charge of attempted murder on which the jury had not been able to reach a verdict. “There should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings,” the prosecutor stated. The retrial is set to begin in June.

Ms. Letby has requested permission to appeal her convictions. After a three-day hearing last month, a panel of judges at the Court of Appeal said it would deliver a decision on that request at a later date.

In Britain, those trying to read the New Yorker article on internet browsers are greeted by an error message: “Oops. Our apologies. This is, almost certainly, not the page you were looking for.” But the block is not comprehensive: The article can be read in the printed edition, which is available in stores in Britain, and on The New Yorker’s mobile app.

The questions about its availability in Britain have prompted a debate around England’s reporting restrictions, their effectiveness and their role in the justice system.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, David Davis, a Conservative Party lawmaker and former cabinet minister, questioned whether the restricting of reporting might, in this instance, undermine the principle of open justice, which allows the public to scrutinize and understand the workings of the law.

“The article was blocked from publication on the U.K. internet, I understand because of a court order,” Mr. Davis said. “I am sure that court order was well intended, but it seems to me that it is in defiance of open justice.”

He was able to raise the issue because he has legal protection for comments made in the House of Commons under what is known as parliamentary privilege. Media organizations have a more limited form of protection, known as qualified privilege, to accurately report what is said in Parliament.

In his response to the question from Mr. Davis, Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, said: “Court orders must be obeyed, and a person can apply to the court for them to be removed. That will need to take place in the normal course of events.”

Mr. Chalk added: “On the Lucy Letby case, I simply make the point that juries’ verdicts must be respected. If there are grounds for an appeal, that should take place in the normal way.”

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