Britain’s highest court ruled Thursday that filmmaker Roman Polanski can give evidence by video-link from France in his British libel suit against a magazine.
The Polish-born director, who has lived in France since fleeing child-sex charges in the United States in 1978, is seeking to sue Vanity Fair magazine over a 2002 article that accused him of seducing a woman while on the way to the funeral of his murdered wife.
Five judges in the House of Lords ruled that Polanski should not be denied access to justice because of his unwillingness to come to Britain for fear of being arrested and extradited to the United States, with which Britain has an extradition treaty. He cannot be extradited under French law.
Polanski is the acclaimed director of “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Pianist,” which drew on his childhood experiences escaping the Holocaust and won an Academy Award for best director in 2003. But his life has been shadowed by tragedy.
Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered by Charles Manson’s followers in Los Angeles in 1969.
Polanski is seeking to sue Vanity Fair publisher Conde Nast over an article that claimed he propositioned a woman in a New York restaurant while on the way to Tate’s funeral.
The publisher is contesting the action. Conde Nast is based in the United States, but libel actions concerning the international media are often brought in British courts because they are considered friendlier to claimants than their American counterparts.
Polanski faces arrest in the United States since pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He was charged with rape and five other felonies in 1977.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor, but fled Los Angeles for Paris soon after, out of fear the judge would disregard his plea bargain and sentence him to 50 years in prison.
The charge to which he pleaded guilty is not an extraditable offense in France.
After announcing his libel action, Polanski sought and obtained a High Court order allowing him to give evidence via video link from France.
That decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, but restored Thursday by the law lords — members of the House of Lords who constitute Britain’s highest court of appeal — in a majority 3-2 ruling. They issued their ruling following a hearing in November attended by Polanski’s lawyer.
“Despite his fugitive status, a fugitive from justice is entitled to invoke the assistance of the court and its procedures in protection of his civil rights,” said Lord Nicholls, who voted with the majority.