Court News UK’s Guy Toyn says the number of serious stories going unheard is a “tragedy” for the democratic process, adding regional papers not covering even big cases were neglecting a “central, civic function of the press”.
Guy spoke out in an interview with Vice magazine, citing an example of a case he covered in which the story of a man convicted of five serious sexual assaults in East London was not reported in the defendant’s local newspaper.
He said this was “not only a dreadful shame because people aren’t being informed, but a tragedy for the democratic process as a whole.”
Said Guy: “Court reporting does take a long time, and a local newspaper can’t really sit around day-in, day-out and do it any more.
“That’s why agency reporters are so valuable. But what we’ve ended up with is a situation where so many court cases just don’t get covered in local papers at all.
“We recently had a very interesting case where a guy carried out five serious sexual assaults in Poplar, east London. Those sexual assaults were never covered in the local newspaper – his arrest was never covered, nor was the opening of his trial, his conviction or his sentence.
“You have to really ask yourself: what is the function of these local newspapers if they can’t keep people properly informed?”
He went on: “This isn’t about whether people want to read these stories or not. We’re talking about a central, civic function of the press.
“If they can’t keep people informed when a man has gone out on bail and raped someone, we have to ask ourselves: is there any point in them existing at all?”
Court News UK, the digital arm of news agency Central News, is the only specialist courts and tribunals agency operating within the UK at present.
It counts most of the major regional papers in the UK among its client list.
Quizzed by Vice on what he thought the future held for court reporting, Guy responded: “I think it’s limited, to be quite honest with you. People talk about televising the courts, and I’m afraid they’re talking absolute nonsense.
“It’s just ridiculous and would be no benefit whatsoever. The BBC and Sky have their cameras up at the High Court, but I think they’re more interested in the drama of the criminal trial than they are in justice.
“Journalism is in very real crisis and it means the bottom line is this: we’re all going to be under-informed. And no one’s up in arms about it.”
Guy’s comments come after Anthony Stansfeld, Thames Valley police and crime commissioner, condemned the impact of court closures on the regional press.
Newbury Weekly News editor Andy Murrill added the closures would stretch reporting resources “to the limit”, with sacrifices to the rest of his paper’s news operation having to be made in order to cover court cases.