Regional editors are today celebrating victory in their long battle over the imposition of charges by magistrates’ courts for supplying lists of court decisions.
Some papers, including the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, have been forced to drop some court coverage as a result of the charges, which it estimated could amount to £40,000 a year.
But Justice Secretary Jack Straw has now ruled that newspapers should be able to access registers containing the outcome of criminal cases as well as details of upcoming court cases free of charge.
In a Commons statement, Mr Straw announced he was abolishing the legal right of magistrates’ courts to impose charges for the lists that has existed since 1989.
“Media will now be better able to report accurately and factually, as they strive to do, on proceedings in magistrates’ courts,” he said.
“This move will help increase confidence in the criminal justice system and deter offending. It also supports compliance with obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights to ensure that trials are held in public.”
Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell welcomed the news. He said: “At last someone has grasped the nettle and made a sensible decision which will help not only the media but will help maintain public confidence in the legal system.”
Telegraph and Argus editor Perry Austin-Clarke added: “I am delighted that Mr Straw has listened to the common sense of our representations and abolished these charges.
“We were forced to stop publishing the court registers because it would have cost the T&A tens of thousands of pounds every year. But this information must be freely available to allow justice to be seen to be done through the medium of local newspapers, which have been the public’s only easily-accessible source of the results of court cases for decades.
“I look forward to being able to publish them again in the near future.”
The row first erupted in March when some court centres began levying photocopying charges of 50p a page for continuing to supply hard copies of the lists.
The T&A, which estimated that the cost of obtaining the lists from all 12 magistrates courts on its patch would be £40,000 a year, was one of the papers forced to drop some court coverage as a result.
Patrick Nicholson (16/07/2008 12:59:01)
I’m delighted that commonsense has at last prevailed. Only our lamentable Labour Government, with its complete disregard for democracy and free speech, could have imposed these disgraceful charges in the first place. As Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail would say, you couldn’t make it up.
Ruth (16/07/2008 14:36:50)
Err, maybe I’m reading this story wrong Patrick, but hasn’t the Government just ruled AGAINST the charges? And didn’t the right to impose the charges exist since 1989, when the Tories were in power???
Michael Mullan (16/07/2008 15:18:10)
Charging for the lists was an abomination, so fair play to the editors who made a stand for the principle of open justice. And here’s the big But: what many will do is just publish the lists, discarding the practice of actually sending real human reporters along to the courts. So many of us cut our teeth on court reporting that I can’t help suspecting there is another agenda here – de-skilling court coverage, reducing it to a cut’n’paste job from the bare-bones material issued by the curt clerks.
Michael Mullan (16/07/2008 15:19:56)
OK, that was a simple lit: I meant court (not curt) clerks, whom I always found unfailingly polite!
Patrick Nicholson (17/07/2008 12:54:16)
Ruth is quite right – I incorrectly blamed the Labour Government for imposing these charges. But why has it taken so long to scrap them?