Up and down the land, the courts are awash with lawyers, magistrates and judges intent on stopping us doing our job – reporting fairly, accurately and openly on how they deliver justice.
Too often, benches conveniently forget the principle of open justice and slap on restrictive reporting orders that make it impossible to report the story in any meaningful way. I believe it’s our job to oppose such unreasonable orders.
It can be daunting for reporters to stand up in court and tell a bench that it has got it wrong, and the first impulse may be to run to house or retained lawyers to mount the challenge. But with a bit of forethought and planning it is quite possible to make them see sense.
Case law and precedents from the higher courts abound in Essential Law for Journalists, so remind yourself of the arguments. I am also a firm believer in using the two booklets: Reporting Restrictions in the Magistrates Courts and Reporting Restrictions in the Crown Courts – protocols agreed between the industry and the Judicial Studies Board that advise courts on best practice. They are just as much part of the court reporter’s toolkit as notebook and pen. Download them from the Newspaper Society’s website.
In Norfolk, we have also built on the two JSB protocols after meetings court officials and judges, to produce local understandings, which mean we do not have to start from scratch every time we encounter a problem.
These aids will make it possible for you to put together a set of specimen letters, adaptable to cover most situations. At the Eastern Daily Press we have pre-rehearsed letters to cover Section 39 orders involving very young children, Section 49 orders on older teenagers facing serious offences, plus letters covering Section 4 and 11 orders under the Contempt of Court Act.
They can quickly be amended to cover the specifics and faxed to the reporter in court, so that they are is properly armed with the arguments.
We do not challenge orders for the sake of it. It means that our challenges are taken seriously when we do make them. So prepare, and stay vigilant.