A change of venue is the legal term for moving a trial to a new location. In high-profile matters, a change of venue may occur to move a jury trial away from a location where a fair and impartial jury may not be possible due to widespread publicity about a crime and its defendants to another community in order to obtain jurors who can be more objective in their duties. This change may be to different towns, and across the other sides of states or, in some extremely high-profile federal cases, to other states.
In law, the word venue designates the location where a trial will be held. It derives from the Latin word for "a place where people gather."
Notwithstanding its use in high-profile cases, a change of venue is more typically sought when a defendant believes that the plaintiff's selected venue is either improper or less appropriate than another venue. A change of venue request because venue is improper means that the removing defendant believes that the case may not be in that venue because it is improper under procedural rules. A change of venue request can also be made if the defendant believes there is a more appropriate venue – called forum non conveniens – even if the current venue is proper under the procedural rules. In these cases, the trial judge is given great deference in most jurisdictions by appellate courts in making the decision as to whether there is a more appropriate venue.
A change of venue may be reflected in the formal language used in a trial. For example, in California, when a bailiff or marshal calls the court to order part of the cry will take the form "in and for the County of San Francisco"; when there is a change of venue the cry will be, "in the County of Alameda for the County of San Francisco."
In England and Wales, the Central Criminal Court Act 1856 permitted the venue for some high-profile cases to be changed to the Old Bailey in London. The Act was passed during the case of William Palmer and was based concerns that he would not be able get a fair trial in his native Staffordshire. They would make it easy for him to repeal the case by local publicity surrounding the case.