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Society of Editors: More media resources needed to cover courts


04 May 2017

SoE

Newsrooms should look to invest more resources in ensuring journalists are able to cover courts, the Society of Editors has suggested.

Speaking after a senior barrister warned that court reporters are in decline and justice is not being seen to be done, the Society of Editors highlighted the value of reporters in court and the important role journalists play in policing justice in their communities. 

Ian Murray, Deputy Executive Director of the Society of Editors said: “The Society of Editors welcomes the recognition by Andrew Langdon QC of the vital service that the media performs in sending reporters to cover courts and the role that journalists play in keeping the public informed of how justice is served in their communities.

“While it is incorrect to suggest that local, regional and national newsrooms do not already perform this function, it is a sad fact that ongoing pressures on editorial budgets mean that resources are more stretched than ever.  

"The role of court reporters in educating the public on how the legal system works as well as ensuring that justice is seen to be done is widely acknowledged and is as important now as it has ever been. Newsrooms should look to ensure that they continue to provide this vital public service to their communities and, where possible, dedicate more resources to public scrutiny of historically underreported areas such as the family courts.”

Langdon, Chairman of the Bar Council, outlined his concerns in a piece in the legal magazine Counsel.

He said: “"Due to the decline in court reporters, justice operates essentially unseen and unheard by the public.

"Court reporters, and especially court reporters from local newspapers, have been declining in number for years and may soon be largely a thing of the past."

Mr Langdon went on: "The large majority of cases, although conducted in public hearings up and down the land, and although producing outcomes that often dramatically affect the lives of the citizens concerned, operate essentially unseen and unheard by the public.

"The way in which the outcomes are arrived at is thus something of a mystery for the large majority of the uninitiated public.

"Worse, outcomes are often supposed to be influenced by factors that are by and large mythical."

Judges' rulings or sentencing remarks could be obtained by journalists "who have picked up only fragments of a story", he went on, adding: "What is missing is an accessible account by a reporter of what happened at the trial; the allegation, the rebuttal, the dynamic, and the personal consequences for the parties or the witnesses or others affected by what is unfolding in court.

"Traditionally most courts have a few seats reserved for the press. Nowadays they are almost always empty.

"The public receive no professional narrative of the way we arrive at justice."


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