Here’s another Jeremy Thorpe scandal – its chilling legacy in law | Geoffrey Robertson

I defended the New Statesman during the legal fallout of the 1970s scandal. But ultimately a veil of secrecy was drawn over the British jury system

As the BBC TV dramatisation of the Thorpe scandal reaches its denouement this Sunday, millions will ask: why was Jeremy Thorpe acquitted of conspiring to kill Norman Scott? Because the judge was biased in his favour; because of the skill of his barrister, George Carman; or because he was innocent?

None of the above. He was acquitted because of the dirtiest deal in media history, made by a rightwing newspaper. The significance of this deal was revealed by a jury member in the New Statesman, which was then itself prosecuted by the Thatcher government for contempt of court. The magazine’s victory for free speech was reversed when that government passed a law that today remains the only legacy of the Thorpe trial: creating the very British crime of refusing to cover up wrongdoing, at least when it takes place in the jury room. That, along with the verve and panache of the TV show, should now be central to our debate.

Related: A Very English Scandal review: funny and confident – like Jeremy Thorpe

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