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Help arrives at court

Magistrates and their clerks are being sent advice on when they should apply reporting restrictions, thanks to an initiative from the Society of Editors.

It follows a move last year when similar documents were sent to crown court judges.

The guidelines were prepared after meetings between senior judges, magistrates’ representatives and media organisations.

They draw special attention to the need for justice to be carried out in public and the importance of media reporting to inform the public.

They spell out when reporting restrictions are mandatory and remind magistrates to consider discretionary restrictions only when necessary.

Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors said: “Magistrates’ courts are the grassroots of justice. As they deal with the majority of cases that come before the courts the potential for problems is greatest there.

“We are most grateful that our concerns have been addressed. We particularly welcome the reminder about the importance of the principle of open justice.

“We believe the guidelines will go a long way to avoiding unnecessary disputes and help the free flow of information from the courts to the public.”

He said the ongoing discussions had helped promote better working relationships between the courts and the media, with editors being encouraged to meet and talk to judges and magistrates about mutual problems that sometimes interfere with the public’s right to know what goes on in the courts.

Copies of the guidelines will also be sent to the media so that misunderstandings may be avoided.

They will brief editors on the law in case they are invited to comment when courts are considering the imposition of reporting restrictions.

The initiative follows concerns raised by editors with Lord Justice Judge when he addressed the Society of Editors.

They included occasions when reporting restrictions had been applied incorrectly or inappropriately. It also forms part of the Society of Editors’ and Newspaper Society’s long-standing work on the promotion of open justice.

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