Handy hints on producing watertight court reports.
Donald Nannestad, Eastern News Services
Make sure you are accurate. There’s nothing worse than being pulled up in front of a judge and feeling their wrath. Spell names and addresses correctly and not just the plaintiffs involved but the lawyers and judges too. Good court reporting is a mix between common sense and talking to people. Remember, even people who can’t help you now may be able to in the future. Be alert to what is happening in the court and if you don’t understand don’t be afraid to ask. Finally, make sure you are clued up on Section 39 – you don’t want to be in contempt of court.
Tim Wood, Tim Wood Agency, the Old Bailey
Don’t miss what the story is about. In a murder case the story isn’t just that someone has been killed. Think laterally, look for something different and unusual in the case. Why would someone be interested in reading about this? If it’s not obvious, don’t write the piece. Be personable and get on with the court staff. The one thing I’ve learnt over the years is always smile at people, it comes in extremely useful at the Old Bailey. The key to becoming a good court reporter, though, is experience. The more trials you attend the better you’ll become. In the end you develop a sixth sense in the courtroom.
Mike Dodd, Legal Editor, PA
Get hold of a copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, read it and understand it. One of the biggest problems that papers have with trainees is that they think they know the law but they don’t. Don’t forget the golden rule: innocent until proven guilty. Make sure any allegation made in court is not treated as fact and use the correct reported speech when writing your report up. More tips available on www.pamediapoint.press.net.
Wes Wright: Freelance Court Reporter North West
Always talk as much as you can to lawyers and barristers. Often they know roughly what the sentence will be before the case has begun. Barristers will also tip you off if there’s a good case coming up. A simple rule of thumb to remember is when the jury’s in court you can report and when they’re not you can’t.
Neil Atkinson, News Editor, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
Don’t swallow everything lawyer’s say. They are there to put on a performance but your job is to report what’s being said. Don’t report anything that hasn’t been said in court and be fair to both sides. Understand what each punishment and sentence entails so that when you come to write, your copy makes sense. Also make sure you understand jargon, make a note of a term or word you’ve not come across before, it’ll save you a lot of time in the long run.
by Sam Jessop