Blow for court reporters as barristers' ethics committee suggests withholding court documents from the press

Journalists covering court cases will find it harder to get basic information, if an influential committee gets its way.
 
The Bar Council's ethics committee has advised that barristers do not have a duty to provide reporters with documents that summarise the arguments used in court cases.
 
The committee says barristers' main duty is to their client – not the press.
 
But journalists find the documents, containing 'skeleton arguments' are essential if they are to cover court cases effectively.
 
The committee's report says: '"There is no duty on a barrister to provide documentation to someone who is not a party.
 
"Anyone dissatisfied with a barrister's refusal to provide documentation has the opportunity to apply to the relevant court or tribunal."
 
The committee's guidance is surprising, since the 'skeleton arguments' system works well. It is in direct conflict with directions given by Lord Neuberger, president on the Supreme Court, two years ago.
 
He said then that the press could not always get the full picture of a case without the skeleton arguments.
 
He added: 'If proceedings are in public, then … there should be made available all the documents which are in court – (journalists) should have them.
 
"If we believe in open justice, then we should be doing something to ensure that, within reason, copies of documents, such as skeletons, are available."
 
Other High Court judges, including Mr Justice Holman, Mr Justice Peter Smith, and Mr Justice David Richard have also spoken out in favour of providing documents to reporters.
 
The ethics committee only provides barristers with guidelines. Hopefully, individual counsel will recognise that they can continue to help the press without compromising their duty to their clients – and also recognise they also have a duty to assist the principle of open justice.
 
Picture: Shutterstock
 
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