A landmark deal has been brokered between the Eastern Daily Press and crown courts in Norfolk which could reduce the number of orders made imposing reporting restrictions on journalists.
The move follows the case of a Norwich judge who imposed a Section 11 Contempt of Court Act order on reporting the case of a child pornography seller because he might have had to give evidence in pending trials overseas.
Judge Simon Bartham had banned the identification of Mark Seel, who admitted to making, possessing and distributing indecent photographs of children and had a number of previous convictions.
The media eventually succeeded in identifying Seel following intervention by the EDP and the News of the World.
EDP assistant editor Paul Durrant and deputy editor Tim Williams met with the presiding judge on the Norwich circuit, Judge Peter Jacobs, who agreed to write to his fellow judges regarding the guidelines.
A key breakthrough was that the crown courts in Norfolk have agreed to ask the media if they want to make representations before any gagging order is made.
Also included in the recommendations was that in common with Magistrates Courts, Crown Court administrators should provide news editors with an adult defendant’s details a day before they are due to appear and where an order is made the court should clarify the particulars of the case which can or can not be reported.
Durrant said: “The courts have adopted a helpful approach in dealing with our concerns.
“It was hugely refreshing to talk to a judge who was keen to learn about the problems the media has in reporting the courts, especially when so many lawyers seem to reach for S39s or S11s as a matter of course these days to protect their clients, and to take time out to remind his fellow judges of best practice.
“This understanding should be useful to us in the future to make sure restrictive orders are properly debated and properly constructed.”
The agreement stipulated that an order must state its precise scope, the time at which it shall cease to have effect if appropriate and the specific purpose of making the order.