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Island's journalists win court secrecy battle

Courts in Jersey have agreed that journalists can make representations in court when magistrates and judges are asked to impose reporting restrictions.

The move follows a behind-the-scenes campaign conducted by the Jersey Evening Post, assisted by the Press Association’s legal editor Mike Dodd.

Court officials and lawyers had started to argue that court reporters shouldn’t be allowed to make representations opposing reporting restrictions.

Media Lawyer reports that these objections were because journalists were not parties to a case and therefore had no standing.

A meeting earlier this month between the Evening Post’s editor Chris Bright and news editor Carl Walker, their barrister and Jersey’s Assistant Magistrate Bridget Shaw concluded that reporters could make their own submissions when reporting restrictions applications were made.

Article 106 of Jersey’s Police Procedures and Criminal Evidence Law contains provisions similar to those under Section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, allowing a court to postpone publication of reports of criminal proceedings.

It also contains a right of appeal but this has to be made to a higher court.

Courts in Jersey have previously insisted that media organisations started a separate action, and brief counsel to make their appeal.

During the meeting with Ms Shaw, the Evening Post handed in a report quoting English law authorities for the proposition that journalists should be allowed to make direct representations when reporting restrictions were being sought.

They said this was because the media was often best placed to defend the public interest.

Mr Walker said: “We were delighted with the response by Ms Shaw. She instantly recognised the importance of the media in making decisions when considering reporting restrictions and she agreed that a directive would be sent to all Relief Magistrates in Jersey to that effect.”

He said the island’s media had been experiencing problems because many defence lawyers had been asking courts for reporting restrictions under Article 106, arguing that they were needed to protect the identity of child victims in abuse cases – although the victims of sexual abuse are automatically given anonymity under Jersey law.

But Article 106 orders were only intended to avoid a serious risk of substantial prejudice to proceedings, said Mr Walker.

He added: “On many occasions we have not been permitted to make this important submission to the court. However, we are hopeful that we will from now on.”

  • The Jersey Evening Post is still involved in discussions with the State’s judiciary over seating for the media in courts. Reporters on the island have to sit in the public gallery where they are often subjected to intimidation, threats and abuse by associates of defendants.
  • Comments

    Colin Devine (06/10/2009 19:36:30)
    Congratulations on securing these rights for Court Reporters on Jersey. How do I go about securing the same rights for acredited reporters in Northern Ireland?
    On today’s Belfast Court list, for example, “press reporting restrictions” have been placed on a case involving an assault on police charge.
    I have yet to discover the reasons for this and the name of the Magistrate who made this decision, but any help you can offer in having this decision reversed would be most welcome.
    The case itself is not significant, it is the precedent it sets which concerns me, as a full time Court reporter.
    Carry this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion and I’ll be out of a job, never mind the wider implications for press freedom here!