Old Bailey clerks 'make reporters' jobs impossible'

Journalists working at the Old Bailey have accused court staff of refusing to provide the addresses of defendants.

The journalists claim that Carol Read, chief clerk at the Old Bailey, has told staff that they may no longer use legal aid documents to give journalists the address of defendants.

Joe Wood, of the Wood Agency, believes that the clerks are making the job of the court reporter almost impossible. "If an address is not given by the prosecutor in the opening statement to the jury, reporters have to beg the police officer in the case for this information.

"Many detectives are helpful but a few are not. And even those that are helpful often ask reporters to come back later because at the start of a trial they are busy assembling evidence."

But Read claimed that clerks would give out addresses just so long as they were in the public domain and on the court file.

"We have not changed anything," she said.

Wood is concerned that if the problems are not nipped in the bud things will continue to deteriorate. "It had been thought until now that a good relationship existed between the press and the court administrators at the Old Bailey but many now fear that the chief clerk’s ruling may lead to a return of the somewhat hostile environment which existed at the end of the Eighties," said Wood.

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor’s Department confirmed that under the Access to Justice Act 1999 court clerks are not permitted to give out addresses from the legal aid record.

"If the address is only recorded on the legal aid record it is not supposed to be given out but it can be found in other parts of the court file. The court computer system is another place where the address may be listed," she said.

The Lord Chancellor’s Department has offered to speak to the court manager at the Old Bailey if the problems continue.

"We are looking at ways of making information available to the press," she added.

By Paul Donovan

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