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Judges to be sent reminder on media restrictions after contentious case

Guidelines on reporting restrictions in Crown Courts are to be issued to judges again in the wake of a series of potentially unlawful or unnecessary reporting restrictions being imposed on the media.

The moves follow a case earlier this year which prompted the Press Association, the Ipswich-based Evening Star and East Anglian Daily Times, to write to the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior Presiding Judge in protest at a case in which a judge banned the reporting of a case heard in open court.

A judge had banned the media from reporting the case of a man charged with causing death by dangerous driving because the victims’ families had not been told that he had changed his plea to guilty, which meant the case could go ahead that day.

The PA, along with EADT editor Terry Hunt and Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover, all protested that there was no legal justification for the order, and that the failure to notify the families was not a valid reason for imposing a reporting restriction which was intended to avoid prejudice to the proceedings or the administration of justice.

But the judge refused to lift the order until he was told, in writing, that the families had been informed of the defendant’s change of plea.

The order was made under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 at the end of a hearing that had happened in open court with journalists present.

The reporting guidelines previously issued by the Judicial Studies Board are to be sent out again – and presiding judges on the Crown Court circuits are also to be asked to meet to discuss the use of reporting restrictions.

Media Lawyer reports that a Judicial Communications Office spokesman said: “The Senior Presiding Judge has said that he will ensure the Judicial Studies Board’s guidelines on reporting restrictions are re-circulated, and that he will raise the general issue with the Presiding Judges for each region.

“He will also be encouraging Presiding and Resident Judges to look sympathetically at any approaches they receive from editors in their areas to discuss local issues.”

The Society of Editors has already been in discussion with senior figures in the judiciary about the possibility of updating the guidelines.

Its director, Bob Satchwell, said: “We welcome the fact that judges are being reminded of the guidelines. They need to be reminded of them constantly.

“It is important for editors to let us know of cases where the guidelines are ignored so that we can take the issue up with senior judges.”

Santha Rasaiah, director of political, editorial and regulatory affairs at the Newspaper Society, said: “The Society welcomes the very helpful proposal to re-circulate the joint JSB/Newspaper Society/Society of Editors guidelines and to encourage courts to hear media representations.”

The guidelines, entitled Reporting Restrictions in the Crown Court, were drawn up by the Judicial Studies Board in conjunction with the Newspaper Society and the Society of Editors, and sent to every Crown Court in England and Wales in 2000 by what was then the Lord Chancellor’s Department, now the Ministry of Justice.

Problems encountered by the media include journalists or newspapers trying to challenge orders in court, only to find that a judge would refuse to entertain representations, or would insist they would be heard only if made in court by counsel.

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