A senior BBC broadcast journalist has overturned a crown court’s apparent blanket restrictions on allowing reporters into bail hearings.
Rupert Upshon, a journalist at BBC Hereford & Worcester, made a challenge after learning it was common practice for reporters to be barred from bail hearings at Worcester Crown Court.
He was told reporters were expected to make a special request to the judge to be allowed in.
In a letter from the court Upshon was told that on 18 February a court clerk said they twice asked Mr Justice Flaux whether one of the BBC’s reporters could be allowed into a bail hearing and on both occasions the judge refused.
After raising his concerns, court manager Janet Strudwick wrote to Upshon: ‘I have referred your letter to His Honour Judge McCreath, our resident judge, as you requested.
‘I would have done so anyway as you have raised points of law which I am not familiar with or legally qualified to comment on.
‘Judge McCreath has concurred with your observations on the guidance and will be issuing a reminder to all our regular judges who sit here at the Shirehall and in Hereford about admittance of the public and reporters on all bail applications.
‘There will always be judicial discretion to exclude the press or public, but reasons for that would need to be made clear. I have also passed that message on to all the court clerks as it is not a practice they have been used to.’
He said: “It’s vital that there’s transparency in the legal system. I don’t think it was a malicious attempt by the court to cover anything up but it’s important to challenge things like this.
‘It’s a great example of the important role local radio plays in journalism and holding the legal system to account. I’m delighted with the response from the court, and hope it gives other journalists the confidence to follow their gut instinct.”
According to McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists: ‘Mr Justice Gray said in the Queen’s Bench Division in 2006 that bail applications in the crown court, including those in which a defendant is seeking to overturn a refusal by magistrates to grant bail, should normally be held in public (Malik v Central Criminal Court).
‘The Criminal Procedure Rules (rule 16.11), he said, allowed that applications may be dealt with by a judge in chambers but this was not to be taken as a presumption in favour of their being held in private.’
If you are a journalist who has had success challenging the courts contact the Press Gazette newsdesk at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7936 6433.