Sustainable funding needed to ensure court orders do not go unchallenged, says news boss

Posted on: March 6, 2020 by Claire Meadows

More sustainable funding for court reporters is needed to ensure that inaccurate or needless court and anonymity orders do not go unchallenged, a regional news boss has said.

Speaking to journalists and legal experts at the official launch of HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s (HMCTS) updated media guidance at the Old Bailey last night, Newsquest’s Editorial Director Toby Granville (pictured above) said that inaccurate court orders and attempts by high profile individuals to avoid publicity were at risk of going unchallenged without trained reporters being present in court. 

He said: “Bloggers and so-called citizen reporters are not trained, professional journalists.

“There is a clear difference and by not having qualified journalists in our courtrooms we are seriously undermining the public’s ability to see that open justice is done to its full extent.

“Take for example our reporters who on a daily basis challenge court orders and anonymity orders that are often incorrectly used to protect guilty defendants from publicity.

“Often orders are used incorrectly by lawyers who don’t always understand the law around anonymity which is regularly successfully challenged by our professional, qualified journalists.

“Without this level of expertise and qualified learning we are in a serious and perilous situation. A worse case for open justice is that we’re not even there to contest them in the first place and the public are censored from knowing the truth about what is going on in their community” he added.

Granville’s words came on the same day that the High Court lifted restrictions on the publication of two family court judgments in relation to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. The damning judgment found that the UAE vice-president and Prime Minister had orchestrated the abductions of two of his children – one from the streets of Cambridge – and subjected his youngest wife to a campaign of “intimidation”. Mohammed had tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the judgement out of the public domain but his appeal had been challenged by a number of media organisation and rejected after the case was ruled to be in the public interest. 

The issue of court reporting was discussed, at length, at the official launch of the HMCTS media guidance. Organised by the courts service, the Society of Editors (SoE) and the News Media Association (NMA), the event was attended by more than 80 media representatives, lecturers and legal experts and also saw an address by the Courts Minister Chris Philp and a round-table discussion chaired by legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg.

The guidance includes a revised protocol agreed between HMCTS, the Society and the NMA to govern the distribution of magistrates’ courts lists, registers and documents to the media, and offers specific guidance to courts and tribunal staff on handling high-profile hearings. This guidance update follows a 12-month series of regional roadshows organised by the Society and HMCTS.

In order to ensure that trained journalists are present in court, sustainable investment was urgently needed to enable increased coverage of cases – particularly in the magistrates’ courts – Granville said.

This could come from an expansion of a programme similar to the Local Democracy Scheme through the partnership publishers have with the BBC or through digital giants such as Google and Facebook funding such reporters, he suggested.

He added: “It is only with a level of serious investment and collaboration in suggestions like these that we as an industry can really make a difference and ensure the public are provided with the knowledge of what’s happening in court rooms up and down the country.”

Read more coverage of the event via @EditorsUK.

Photos (HM Courts and Tribunals Service) can be viewed below