Court hears plea to bar Croydon Advertiser journalist from covering case

A London magistrates court considered submissions to ban a local journalist from covering a trial because his "heavy reporting" of the defendant’s previous cases “intimidates” witness.  

Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies said court 10 at Croydon Magistrates’ Court had “ground to a halt” while the bench considered the “unprecedented” submission to have him barred from covering the case.

Magistrates were reportedly shown a front page of the Croydon Advertiser showing the defendant “giving a photographer the middle finger”, and were told that the witness “has even refused to give evidence behind a screen” if Davies is present.

Tweeting the proceedings this afternoon, Davies said: “It was suggested I sit outside be given a summary of witnesses evidence instead. No chance. Already sat through half of trial.”

He added:

The prosecution reportedly told the bench that "Leveson hasn't reported yet so we still live in a country with a free press." The defence counsel is said to be insisting she has a case to exclude Davies in the interests of justice.

Davies added:

He was later told that  "I'm not allowed to make a submission on potentially being excluded from court".

UPDATE (1.25pm): The case has been adjourned until 2pm: 

You can follow Davies on Twitter here

UPDATE (2.50pm): Davies has made a submission and told he can stay and cover the case.  He reports that district judge Hunter said: "What I find difficult in seeing is how witness will find the press intimidating".

According to the latest edition of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, Section 121 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 “stipulates that other than in a circumstance in which another statute permits them to sit in private, magistrates must sit in open court when trying a case of imposing prison sentences or inquiring into an offender’s financial circumstances or hearing a complaint in civil law”.

Under Section 25 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, a court “can make a ‘special measure direction’ to exclude the public and some journalists when a witness deemed ‘vulnerable’ or ‘intimidated’ is due to give evidence in a sexual offence case or when it appears to the court that there are reasonable grounds for believing that any person other than the defendant has sought, or will seek, to intimidate the witness.

“However, the Act states that one journalist must be allowed to remain in court.”

Lord Williams of Mostyn QC, a former Home Office Minister, said of Section 25: “We believe the court will rarely want to exclude the press.”

The Act also states that “even if, under this provision, some journalists and the public are excluded from a courtroom, these proceedings shall still legally be deemed to be held in public ‘for the purposes of any privilege or exemption from liability available in respect of fair, accurate and contemporaneous reports’, a reference to contempt and libel law”.

Some reaction to the unfolding story on Twitter:

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