New guide published to help court reporters ensure open justice

A new and updated edition of the guidance on reporting restriction in courts was published yesterday.

The fourth edition of Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts can now be viewed here

The document, which first appeared in 2000, covers all the latest changes to the law, including new provisions relating to anonymity for children and young people appearing in courts and anonymity for the victims of female genital mutilation, all of which came into effect within the past few weeks, and incorporates important decisions from the Court of Appeal and the Divisional Court.

The document, published by the Judicial College, the News Media Association (NMA), which represents the national, reginal and local press, the Society of Editors and the Media Lawyers Association (MLA), replaces the third edition, published in June last year.

The guidelines, which are designed to provide both the courts and the media a single useful reference, contains a checklist setting out the points a court should consider before imposing any restriction on reporting or on press access to a hearing or case.

It also summarises the automatic and discretionary reporting restrictions, and where the law permits such exceptions to the open justice principle.

Each section concludes with a bullet point summary of the key principles.

The document, which gives practical guidance for judges, magistrates, journalists and lawyers, is notable for the degree of collaboration which has gone into its production.

The joint guidelines were revised by specialist media barrister Guy Vassall-Adams, of Matrix Chambers, following discussions between the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Society of Editors, the NMA, and the MLA.

The Lord Chief Justice says in the foreword to the guidance: "Open justice is a hallmark of the rule of law. It is an essential requisite of the criminal justice system that it should be administered in public and subject to public scrutiny. The media play a vital role in representing the public and reflecting the public interest. However, as is well known, there are some exceptions to these principles. Difficulties and uncertainty can sometimes arise in ensuring they are correctly applied and observed."

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: "Since the first guide to reporting restrictions was published fewer inappropriate orders have been published.

"The courts have a better understanding of the media and listen to reporters when orders would make their work as a conduit to the public more difficult. Openness maintains confidence in the justice system and that benefits all who work in it."

NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs director Santha Rasaiah said: "Open Justice matters. The local, regional and national press reports of the criminal courts at every level, by many means, by tweet, by blog, by full report , by weekly round up of court registers, enable the public to know about the day to day work of their local courts , as well as the cases of national interest.

"This guide not only provides a succinct summary of applicable reporting restrictions, but also a checklist that helps the court to 'stop and think' whether any further restriction in any particular case is really justified. The News Media Association has been delighted to work yet again with the Judicial College, under the auspices of The Lord Chief Justice, on this common guide for judiciary and journalists, prosecution and defence.

"We hope it will be useful in supporting open justice and public understanding of the work of the criminal courts."

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