Press tips on reporting as Government clamps down on pre-trial prejudice rules

The prosecution of The Sun for an alleged breach of pre-trial reporting restrictions is yet another sign of the present Government’s determination to clamp down on pre-trial prejudice by the media.

As reported last month by Press Gazette the paper faces a court appearance after being charged with breaching Section 52A of the Crime and Disorder Act.

The alleged breaches relate to a preliminary hearing of a man who blew up his house when his girlfriend left him, killing his neighbours’ two-year-old boy.

The Sun reported the sending for trial hearing in its printed and online edition on 11 September 2012.

The man, unemployed joiner Andrew Partington, 28, was jailed for ten years last month.

It is a long time since a newspaper has been prosecuted for breaching pre-trial reporting restrictions, and reflects a tougher attitude to the media by the police and the Attorney General.

Although local papers apply the restrictions rigorously many national papers are far more relaxed about them.

The Sun spectacularly ignored them when they reported footballer Joey Barton’s bail application in 2007.

They reported the reasons while bail was refused, quoted the magistrate as saying he ‘lashed out indiscriminately’, reported evidence and also mentioned he was already on bail for other offences.

That story was used by law lecturers everywhere as an example of how not to do it, but was hardly unique. The prosecution of The Sun reflects a tougher attitude to the media by the police and the Attorney General.

Section 52a restrictions replace those under Section 8 of the Magistrates Court Act and cover hearings to decide mode of trial, and sending for trial hearings.

They are virtually the same as the ten points under the Magistrates Court Act 1980 –

The media can only report:

• the identity of the court and the name of the justice or justices

• the name, age, home address and occupation of the accused

• in the case of an accused charged with a ‘serious or complex’ fraud, any ‘relevant business’ information

• the offence or offences, or a summary of them, with which the accused is or are charged

• the names of counsel and solicitors engaged in the proceedings

• where the proceedings are adjourned, the date and place to which they are adjourned

• the arrangements as to bail

• whether legal aid is granted

The Sun’s hearing is scheduled for 5 April 2013, at Manchester City Magistrates’ Court.

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