A Mail on Sunday features writer has been spared jail after blaming “work pressure” for recording a court hearing on her mobile phone.
Marcia Angela Johnson, 59, admitted being in contempt of court when she made the audio recording of a case involving “persons of interest” from the public gallery at Southwark Crown Court (pictured) on 26 September.
At a hearing at the Old Bailey, her lawyer Alex Bailin QC offered an apology and said: “Her motive in audio recording the Newton hearing was benign.
“She wanted to have a complete accurate record of the proceedings in this case and she was concerned that if she was to use shorthand or note taking she would not be able to keep up and she would not have an accurate record.
“The truth is this – she was under work pressure. She was disproportionately worried about getting something wrong in taking down what happened in that hearing, using it as part of the feature she was going to write.
“It does not amount to an excuse but an explanation. She never had any intention of publishing those audio recordings in audio form.”
Bailin said his client had been a journalist for 37 years but the last time she had done any court reporting was eight years ago.
When she was confronted by police and an usher, she “panicked”, the court heard.
The barrister said: “She accepts that after being found out she panicked. She should have been wholly truthful and co-operative with police and the usher. She accepts she was not.
“She accepts, in the heat of the moment as the officer observed, she may have tried to delete one of the recordings.
“She accepts there was a tussle over handing over the phone afterwards.”
Mr Justice Edis handed Johnson, of Finsbury Park, north London, seven days in custody suspended for 12 months and a fine of £500.
The senior judge said: “The rule against recording of legal proceedings is in place to protect the integrity of those proceedings and to protect all those who participate in legal proceedings, often against their will.
“These days, it is very easy for people to create recordings using mobile phones which in most courts in this country are not taken from those entering courtrooms.
“Therefore the only effective protection for the system of justice and those involved in it is the enforcement of this rule when it is found to be broken.”
He said it was not as serious as when a recording is made to “embarrass” or “vilify” participants or target jurors for some criminal purpose.
But the offence, though at the lower end of the scale, was aggravated by the fact Johnson was an “experienced professional journalist who knew perfectly well of the rule and is perfectly intelligent enough to know why it exists”, he said.
Mr Justice Edis added that the attempt to delete the audio recording was “intended to destroy evidence” of the contempt of court.
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