Norfolk titles establish court report blueprint

Durrant: ‘common sense advice’

Newspapers in Norfolk have drawn up a ground-breaking protocol to guide journalists and court staff through the often complex rules governing reporting restrictions.

It is believed to be the first such agreement of its kind and could form a template for newspapers across the UK to follow.

The agreement – which will be introduced on 1 April and covers youth and adult courts – builds on the national Reporting Restrictions in the Magistrates Courts booklet agreed by the Newspaper Society, the Society of Editors and the Judicial Studies Board in 2001.

Archant-owned titles the Eastern Daily Press, Evening News and Lynn News have been involved in negotiating the guidelines at a series of meetings with senior court staff.

One of the negotiators, EDP assistant editor Paul Durrant, said: “The protocol enshrines a number of issues which have been eternal niggles in newsrooms up and down the country.

It also means we do not have to reinvent the wheel every time we wish to challenge a reporting restriction, by accepting many of the case authorities we cite on these occasions.”

Under the agreement, officials have accepted that court lists will be made available to reporters the day before proceedings and that the names, ages and full addresses will be stated in court. Court officials have also accepted they have a responsibility to tell the media if they expect a restrictive order to be made and have agreed to put back such a case in the court list to allow editors time to put together meaningful representations.

On Section 39 orders, which prevent the naming of juveniles in courts other than youth courts, the protocol states that they should not be imposed automatically but that courts “must have a good reason”.

The protocol also deals with Section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act, which allows judges to withhold the name of people involved in court proceedings. It is intended for use in blackmail cases and when deemed necessary in the interests of national security.

The agreement cites “press friendly” judgments and underlines the importance of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act in freedom of expression.

Durrant said: “This is sound, common sense advice to magistrates which can only help our day-to-day work and also accepts that newspapers have an important part to play in the court machine.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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