Calls renewed for online reporting restrictions database

Newsquest head of legal Simon Westrop has called for a centralised website charting reporting restrictions that have been placed on court cases, to avoid media organisations breaching orders.

His comments came after the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald inadvertently breached the Children and Young Persons Act by identifying a 15-year-old boy involved in a stabbing case at Plymouth Magistrates Court.

The group was fined £3,000, ordered to pay £750 in compensation to the boy and £150 in court costs after the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald published a story about the teenager.

The Gazette did not attend the Plymouth hearing where the order was made and gained its information from local a local woman who knew about the case.

By reporting that the boy was involved in a court case, the paper inadvertently breached the order which bans the identification of children and young people involved in a court case or anything that is likely to lead to their identification.

Defending the Gazette Joanne Cash argued that the paper had contacted Cornwall and Devon Police press office about the case but had not been told about a court order which was made verbally in court.

Prosecutor Rebecca Abbott told the court that the paper should have contacted the court office rather than rely on the press office.

Westrop said: ‘Under the strict liability rule we should have made the enquiry. Equally the courts have an obligation to make sure that the information about the existence of discretionary orders is made available to the press.

‘If there were a central website where all court orders of this kind were lodged then it would be much more convenient for everybody and there would be no excuse for the press then in having missed an order, especially when you are 100s of miles away from the court concerned.

A centralised system is already in place in Scotland and according to public information officer for the Scottish judiciary Elizabeth Cutting it has improved the quality of court reporting in the Scottish media.

The Society of Editors is also calling for such a system.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘Her Majesty’s Court Service has had early discussions with the Society of Editors to scope for feasibility of a database of court reporting restrictions and investigating the options of setting up such a database so that the media can fund it.’In the interim it remains the responsibility of reporters and their editors to ensure no restrictions apply.

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