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London court coverage is dwindling, conference told

05 November 2018

Helen Bennicke/Society of Editors

Court coverage in London is dwindling, the Society of Editors conference was told this afternoon. 

Speaking to more than 100 senior media executives, Tristan Kirk, a court reporter for the London Evening Standard told delegates that in his eight years of covering the capital, the number of journalists attending court had undoubtedly fallen. 

“The Old Bailey and Southwark Crown Court are the only courts in London that get proper coverage. That is simply not good enough" he said. 

“We need to confront the reality that people are not being sent to court", he added. 

Urging Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service to remove the "opaque nature" of the information they make public to the press, he said that the listing system required improvement and it was “shocking” to hear of court lists being taken from reporters. 

"It is happening daily”, he added. 

Crown Court lists did not contain “sufficient information” he added and this needed to be rectified. 

John Battle, Head of Compliance at ITN and Chair of the Media Lawyers' Association, argued that some ground had been made in filming inside courts. This needed to be increased he said and discussions were ongoing with the Ministry of Justice to allow filming of sentencing in courts. There remained “challenges” with virtual courts and privacy in the criminal justice system he said. 

Battle said “we need a reporters’ charter in the criminal court - where we are supposed to sit, WiFi, court orders. We need a database - especially at the weekend - where we can access what law needs to be complied with.

“We have shown that the sky does not fallen down with cameras in court" he added. 

Lawyer Harriet Wistrich said open justice is “really critical" to the justice system. As someone who works proactively with the media, it’s important that cases are covered as they are “of important public interest” she urged. 

Wistrich, a lawyer with Birnberg Peirce and Partners, was partially responsible for a successful Supreme Court challenge by two victims of rapist John Worboys earlier this year as well as a subsequent decision by the parole board to reconsider the decision to release Worboys on parole in January. 

Joy Yates, Editorial Director at Johnston Press North East assured delegates that she invests in court coverage at her papers.

“I love court content. It’s vital for justice and to instil public confidence. For me it ticks absolutely every box," she said. 

“It’s something I always keep at the forefront of everything I do. It’s not cheap to cover courts. We have a model in the North East where we use a local news agency to cover crown court.

“They know the court clerks and the legal teams and it makes a difference. We back that up and I also staff magistrates. That might be to the detriment of another element of content, but I will continue to do so as I don’t think we can afford not to" she added. 

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