'No open justice' without press scrutiny in courts

 

Without the press covering courts there would be no open justice, a top judge has said.

Lord Justice Judge, speaking at the launch of the latest edition of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists by Tom Welsh and Walter Greenwood, warned: "We are only paying lip service to criminal justice and civil justice being administered openly if the press are not there.

"It’s no good courts sitting without anybody from the press there, to mark the process, to observe any sillinesses, to report the facts. Without you there, there is no open justice." He added: " I don’t want you there so that your circulation figures will increase.

"I want you there because you keep an eye on what we are doing and it is fundamental to the way we do our job that we are open to public scrutiny.

"And it is fundamental to the administration of justice in a civilised country that, unless absolutely necessary, nothing should happen behind closed doors."

But Bob Norris, chairman of the NCTJ’s law board, claimed that although newspapers were getting a stream of junior reporters trained in media law they were not being used to cover courts.

"Far too many cases go unreported and far too many newspapers rely on freelances to cover courts with perfectly competent trainees in newsroom custody making phone calls and rewriting press releases," he said.

Welsh thanked Lord Justice Judge for his "splendidly robust statement" on the freedom of the press in the Martin Bright case, when he had rejected security service demands that The Guardian and The Observer should hand over an e-mail received from David Shayler.

Welsh recommended that all lecturers should make themselves familiar with the case.

Greenwood told the seminar that national newspapers had failed to realise how much the law in handling news has expanded and some fell foul of restrictions they have never heard of, and risk prosecution.

"Miraculously, they seem to escape prosecution. We had the case a few weeks ago of where a national broadsheet did not realise that the Access to Justice Act 1999 has now extended the anonymity of those under 18 to Children Act cases in the county courts and the High Court, as well as to family proceedings in the magistrates courts.

"The newspaper then went on to publish the name and photograph of the child of Paula Yates in proceedings under the Children Act in London," he said.

lMcNae’s Essential Law for Journalists is published by Butterworths, price £14.95.

By Jon Slattery

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