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Electronic court lists could be available by summer

The long campaign to get court lists and results available to newspapers electronically has taken a further step forward after a regional editor lobbied ministers over the issue.

Bodies such as the Society of Editors and Newspaper Society have been vigorously campaigning for electronic availability of case outcomes to newspapers for some time.

Now Ed Asquith, editor of Johnston Press title the Scarborough Evening News and Society of Editors member, has received a letter from justice secretary Jack Straw which says he is still hopeful of making court lists available digitally to newspapers, possibly at some point in the summer.

This move would save considerable time for any local paper that publishes court results in full or in planning court coverage.

If the scheme is given the green light, reporters would be able to retrieve court lists and registers with password-protected access.

Mr Straw’s letter said: “As you know I believe that the local press have a very important role to play in helping develop confidence in the justice system through accurate reporting of issues facing local communities and I am pleased to hear that the provision of court results and lists has been effective in helping to provide the information that you require.

“I am sure that you will appreciate that because of the nature of electronic data there is an even greater need to ensure that this is transmitted, stored and managed with due attention to data protection principles.

“Officials in my department are continuing to work on an effective solution and hope to be able to provide more information on this in the spring.”

The issue of access to results and cases came to a head last summer after some papers were forced to cease some court coverage due to charges being imposed for photocopying.

Ed had spent five months in communication with HM Courts Service officials to ask them to reconsider the imposition of fees for court lists.

In July, Mr Straw announced that court results must be available free to local newspapers, abolishing a legal right of magistrates to charge which had existed since 1989.

Ed told HTFP: “Given that the Courts Service was originally going to charge the Scarborough Evening News alone £13,000 per year for print-outs of the lists and registers, and £40,000 per year for papers such as the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, the move towards a digital solution is a remarkable development.”


David Graham (22/04/2009 07:56:06)
As an agency boss who has reporters at court each day I shiver at the thought of newspapers relying on the courts service for producing lists and results which are anything like accurate.Addresses, charges,ages are on a daily basis incorrect and that will results in papers carrying vast amounts of disclaimers and corrections and in some cases paying up damages….the Courts Service will of course pass on all the blame to the papers.