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‘Courts not covered properly’ admit more than half of editors

scales-of-justiceMore than half of local newspaper editors have admitted courts are not being reported on properly, according to new research.

A study by the University of Winchester also revealed 55pc of editors would rely on a police press release for a court report, rather than sending a reporter or using agency copy.

A total of 57 editors responded to the survey, of which 56pc said they did not have a dedicated court reporter at their newspaper and 11pc said they rarely cover cases.

One third of respondents believed it was very important to have a dedicated court reporter, while 4pc said it wasn’t important.

The findings have been revealed in a report on online law magazine The Justice Gap, which is edited by journalist and Winchester visiting lecturer Jon Robbins.

The study also found:

– 8pc of editors said they had a dedicated reporter in the last five years, but didn’t have one now

– 62pc said their dedicated reporter attends court at least once a week, while 60pc said they covered court stories in every edition

– 59pc of the newspapers get their stories from a mix of reporters and agency copy, while 38pc get them entirely from a court reporter and 5pc solely form agencies

– When asked if their court reporter had used Twitter to cover a case, 44pc said they never had, 22pc said rarely, a further 22pc said sometimes and 12pc said often

– 92pc said they believed courts were generally positive towards journalists covering cases

Editors were asked to agree or disagree with the assertion by the legal journalist Marcel Berlins that it was “abundantly clear that the courts are no longer being properly reported”.

More than half of editors agreed, including 11pc who agreed strongly.

Brian Thornton, a former BBC NEwsnight producer who led the study, told The Justice Gap: “The fact that the media is engaging less and less with the everyday workings of the criminal justice system means that journalists are increasing unaware of what actually happens in such important settings as crown courts or coroner’s courts.

“I would argue that this ignorance is dangerous because it spreads to the public. If the public aren’t being informed about what’s happening in courts, how can they be expected to know?”

Brian added that the lakc of court coverage posed a problem for anyone investigating miscarriages of justice.

He continued: “The first thing that a reporter will do when they want to look into a case involving a possible wrongful conviction is to retrieve the relevant court reports/ transcripts.

“But because – as has been highlighted by the Justice Gap – court transcripts are routinely destroyed a few years after the conclusion of a trial, the only record that will exist of the trial is the one written by the court reporter and published, often, in a local newspaper.

“But if newspapers are reducing the number of court reporters, along with reducing the number of stories they cover, then there is a growing number of cases that will be lost completely to the collective memory.

“Hundreds and hundreds of cases each year will go unrecorded – bizarrely becoming essentially secret trials because no one will have any information about them.”


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  • October 28, 2016 at 9:25 am

    A police press release on a court case ? What next, the chief constable editing the paper ? And what guarantee would there be that the press release was accurate ?

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  • October 28, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Lack of court coverage has been a short sighted and major failing by majority of regional press groups which has resulted in fewer people buying their local paper,many of whom bought previously for this type of hyper local, street level information, however wth the rapid copy sale decline over the past 2-3 years which shows no sign of abating, the local paper is no longer a credible medium for the public to read about court matters and local wrong doers.
    Far better for the authorities to seek and use alternate platforms with wider reach and higher audiences to inform the public.

    With some daily papers reaching less than 5% of their communities the effect of being named and shamed in the local daily or weekly has all but gone with so few seeing it as to render it ineffective.
    It’s stating the obvious but once an audience or market has gone,or its purchasing habits have changed,its nigh on impossible to get it back and this finding is yet another example of short term cost savings having a huge negative impact further down the line.

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  • October 28, 2016 at 10:16 am

    OK, having been probably justifiably censored for using a rude word, I think the obvious reply to this truly astonishing revelation is: ‘Gosh, really?’

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  • October 28, 2016 at 10:25 am

    I’m more concerned about the editors who think the court coverage is OK. What planet are they on?

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  • October 28, 2016 at 10:39 am

    I am with emily moor.

    Even if police press releases are accurate they do not meet the criteria for a balanced report, since they only give the prosecution side of the story and carry no mitigation. This is not the fault of the police. Newspapers should do their own coverage, but that is a thing of the past in most cases. It is a mess.
    I recall when reporters from my local rag covered my local magistrates court every day.
    Now it is never there. Just waiting for the next press release…

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  • October 28, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    A barrister friend of mine who spends a lot of time in magistrates courts says he witnesses constant miscarriages of justice because the courts are empty and the JPs are unscrutinised.

    Example: A man steals items from a shop. The shopkeeper gives police a description. Police pick up a suspect who looks nothing like the shopkeeper’s description, but the shopkeeper IDs him. That ID is the sole evidence of guilt. Under cross-examination, the shopkeeper concedes that the defendant looks nothing like his original description and says he is actually not sure the defendant was the perpetrator, but he had said he was sure because he wanted to help the police. The magistrates still convict.

    My pal says this sort of thing happens before his eyes on an almost daily basis in magistrates courts and the whole criminal bar openly acknowledges that magistrates courts are effectively kangaroo courts. However, it is also acknowledged that the JPs stick to the rules far more closely if there is a reporter in the courtroom, taking copious notes about what they’re doing.

    Corruption thrives in darkness. It’s not just our newspapers that are suffering – which is a given – it’s the defendants who are being convicted on feeble evidence, if any at all.

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  • October 28, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Courts have never been properly covered … editorial preferences for the salacious mean if you are involved in certain types of case there is a good chance of coverage and for others, virtually nil. The end result is utter tedium.

    I worked at a paper where a very minor TV person was up for a fairly minor offence and every time he – in the words of the cliche – ‘spoke only to confirm his name’, it appeared on the front page. Madness

    What’s more concerning is the commonplace use of Facebook for ongoing trials and the encouragement of ‘readers’ to comment along the lines of ‘he’s always been a bad ‘un’. Then pass the responsibility to Facebook. If I was a defence lawyer the local paper Facebook page would be my first port of call. After all, according to the frankly unbelievable figures pumped out by the papers, the number of digital readers in some cities appears to exceed the actual population!!!

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  • October 28, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Fear not people. The reporters being bankrolled by the BBC will be doing court stories.

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  • October 28, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Court reporting of old could be pretty dodgy. Nipping in and out of several cases in different courtrooms and hoping no clangers were dropped, or noticed. Much easier to re-write (or even not bother to) that press release.

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  • October 31, 2016 at 9:19 am

    My paper still covers the local mags but it is being made more and more difficult through no fault of our own.

    1) two days a week our ‘local’ mags sit at another court more than 30 miles away (where we do not have a paper or an office). There are now plans to do this three times a week.

    2) We can no longer turn up at court to get the daily lists. They are emailed to us but very infrequently despite our protests.
    All that is available from the court on the day is a list of names and which court number they are appearing in – no charges etc. So without the prelist it is blind luck and getting there early to chat to the CPS to find out if anything good is up.

    3) We are in a long-running battle with the court as they point blank refuse to send us Youth Court lists and last month an usher tried to stop one of our reporters going into a youth case.
    It took a lot longer than it should have, including a call from our editor to the court to speak to the clerk (who refused to meet the reporter) to get it sorted.

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