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Trainee wins court challenge after attempt to stifle mitigation

Journalism recruit Kirsty Beever made an unusual challenge at her local magistrates’ court – and won.

The Scarborough Evening News trainee reporter was on court duty when a man was being prosecuted for assault on another man whom he believed had been having an affair with his wife and made her pregnant.

The lawyer who was defending offered this information as mitigation.

But the prosecutor, John Hargreaves, then attempted to place a reporting ban on the details of the mitigation under the grounds it was a derogatory assertion.

Kirsty, (left), who has been with the Johnston Press title for just six weeks, quoted McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, which says: “Under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, a court has power to restrict the reporting of an assertion made in a speech of mitigation where there are substantial grounds for believing that the assertion is derogatory to a person character (such as where it is suggested that his conduct has been criminal, immoral, or improper) and that the assertion is false or the facts asserted are irrelevant to the sentence.”

She made a call to her newsdesk to double-check her facts before speaking in open court, and liaised with acting news editor Adam Moss.

She then told the bench that under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 there had to be substantial grounds for believing that the assertion was untrue, something the prosecution did not have.

She also argued that if the mitigation had affected the sentence given, reporting of such mitigation could not be restricted.

This was the factor which persuaded the magistrates, who decided to give the defendant a lesser sentence because of the mitigation.

They allowed the paper to report the case in full.

  • Kirsty has attended NCTJ college and taken her preliminary exams – and when new trainees first join the Evening News, they go to court with an experienced reporter first, before taking the responsibility on their own.