Murder, treason, manslaughter, reckless abandon; if you followed the Chris Judd ‘chicken-wing’ saga throughout the media in the lead up to the tribunal hearing, he was nearly accused of it all. A dead man walking, as it were.

What Chris Judd did to North Melbourne’s Leigh Adams can be termed nothing short of bizarre. It certainly didn’t look favourable to Judd’s cause, and whilst the footballing public and wider media can try and guesstimate the reasons behind why he did what he did, the only person that can provide an explanation is the man himself. But to some it’s a matter of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’.

As is the case with any incident that comes before a tribunal/court system, shouldn’t the perpetrator in question always be assumed ‘innocent until proven guilty’? With his crucifixion throughout the media before even being given the chance to have his thoughts heard, it would appear not everyone holds that same presumption of innocence.

Let me cast your attention towards Tuesday, July 17th’s edition of the Herald Sun. Flip through the sports section and of course you’ll find it littered with articles and editorials covering the Judd furore. Standard. But it’s the quality of journalism provided – or rather lack thereof – that is of most concern. Enter one such culprit; Mark Robinson.

Rather ironic how Robinson mentions how Carlton believe the media’s treatment of Judd is bordering on character assassination, in an article that deliberately highlights his prior indiscretions to culminate into a presumption of guilt. He follows by craftily dancing around the subject without revealing his cards, but the contradictions in his story tell the true tale. Whilst in one instance he states Judd isn’t a dirty player, the next he contends that he “…physically hurts opponents … and does it when they are on the ground and defenceless.” Robbo, your backside must have a fair few splinters in it after trying ever so gracefully to balance yourself on that fence. Trouble is, in this case, you’ve fallen off.

Of course, Robbo isn’t just playing a lone hand in this charade. Throughout the media we have had many buzzwords and phrases thrown at us that naturally evoke ideas of guilt. Among them include; dark side; unsportsmanlike; tarnished; and defenceless victims.

But the most surprising comment came from within the confines of the AFL’s own adjudication system; Match Review Panel chairman Mark Fraser. Due to the nature of the offence being too unique for it to fall within and be graded as per the AFL’s table of offences, it had to be directly referred onto the tribunal. In doing so, Fraser came out and stated that he, along with his colleagues Des Gleeson and Bryan Sheehan decided to categorise it as misconduct. But he decided he’d push the envelope a step further and unnecessarily added “we thought it was unsportsmanlike in nature, Chris Judd’s conduct, and has the potential to bring the game into disrepute.”

What exactly does adding those comments achieve? I contend, all it does is dilute ideas of impartiality and obstructs the course of objective justice. Some may claim his comments provided clarification, but did he really need to say it when it was already made obvious the case was outside the laws governed by the MRP? And to comment on the case before it had been heard before the tribunal? Poor form.

The Australian Legal System is founded upon the idea that courts can only operate effectively and enforce their judgments if they are free from outside interference. If a judge, barrister, witness or any one person associated with a court case commented on or revealed details about the case whilst it was being heard before the courts, they would be charged with contempt of court. This same rule should be adopted within the AFL adjudication system, and apply to officials such as Fraser.

All that Fraser needed to say was that the case was outside of their powers, hence the reason as to why it was referred on to the tribunal as they could more appropriately adjudicate on what was classified as a unique case. By saying what he did, and using loaded phrases such as unsportsmanlike in nature and potential to bring the game into disrepute, it reeks of a presumption of guilt and has the potential to influence the verdict handed down by the tribunal.

Hence, there’s reason to believe he went outside what was required of his role, and in doing so compromised such ideas of impartial justice.

So what of the media’s aforementioned treatment of Judd, and the use of buzzwords implying guilt? Like Fraser’s comments, it too can obstruct the course of proceedings. Naturally, the MRP may not admit that it weighs in on their findings, but I’d suggest it could have some degree of effect on a subconscious level. It’s only human nature for people to conform under pressure if the vast majority are driving a particular agenda. It adds greater significance to the findings of the tribunal, and as a by-product it adds more pressure to hand down a verdict that conforms to the public opinion; an opinion, mind you, the media supposedly represents.

Nothing will change the way the media go about reporting particular issues, even those that are to come before the tribunal, and the AFL stand powerless in the face of it. It’s just the nature of the business. Some will have hidden agendas, and those officials in the position of adjudicating on reported matters before the tribunal will need to try and turn a blind eye. However, the AFL does have the power to curb what some of their officials, like Fraser, say.

It’s trouble enough that the AFL are constantly being criticised for the inconsistencies in their MRP outcomes, and it looks rather unbecoming when their entire system, which is supposedly founded upon impartiality and fair hearings, can be undermined by the words of one official.