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Courts working in secret due to local press ‘demise’ says legal writer

Dean StrangMagistrates’ courts are operating “effectively in secret” because of a lack of regional press coverage, it has been claimed.

A piece in the Law Society Gazette says the “demise” of traditional local newspapers is one of a number of factors which means the UK is “failing” open justice tests.

The Gazette is a weekly trade magazine for solicitors published by the Law Society of England and Wales.

The claim, in a piece by news editor Michael Cross, comes after research conducted at King’s College London last year found there were “far fewer journalists” covering public bodies including courts.

Michael, who began his career on the Surrey Advertiser in the 1970s, wrote: “With the demise of traditional local newspapers, many magistrates’ courts are already operating effectively in secret.

“Even court listings are not routinely available except to approved newspaper editors, despite a Criminal Procedure Rule Committee recommendation three years ago that they be published online.”

The Open Justice Charter has already won the backing of American defence lawyer Dean Strang, pictured above left, whose work defending murder convict Steven Avery was documented in Netflix TV series Making a Murderer.

The five-part charter calls for:

* Recordings of all court proceedings to be available free of charge. The unavailability of a complete recording of the trial should in itself be grounds for appeal

* Police documentation to be available to the defence unless the police can give the trial judge a specific valid justification for non-disclosure

* Individuals seeking to appeal a conviction should be granted controlled access to exhibits and evidence for forensic examination

* Journalists should generally be allowed to visit prisoners with the consent of the prisoner. Where this is disallowed, the burden of proof should be on the prison governor

* Materials obtained or produced by the Criminal Cases Review Commission should be made available to representatives of applicants

In the King’s College report, authors Gordon Ramsay and Martin Moore urged more research to be undertaken into claims of a “growing democratic deficit” in the provision and diversity of local news, claiming increased overall readership of local news brands via their digital operations has not led to an increase in “on-the-ground” reporting.

It read: “From a democratic perspective there are three clear differences between the digital news sites and their print predecessors. The increase in digital readership has not been accompanied by an increase in the on-the-ground reporting of local news.

“There are not more journalists covering local councils, courts, schools or hospitals. In fact there are indications that far fewer journalists are doing this.

“Consequently there has been no increase in the (already diminished) public interest journalism reaching these increased readerships.”


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  • February 9, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    Since our local courtroom closed, staff at the new, central facility get so alarmed if anyone whips out a notebook that they are on you like a rash to demand name, ID, name of employer, etc. (They are politely reminded, on a regular basis, that this is totally unnecessary.) I fear the above suggestions such as publishing court proceedings, while well intentioned, would soon be neutered were they ever introduced: inapproprriate orders under Section 11 are already increasing with no one to challenge them. I suspect they would become routine in pretty short order.

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  • February 10, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Real reporters (as opposed to those spending their day rewriting e mails) might remember ushers ringing them while they were on their news rounds (outside the office) to tip them off when a cracking case was about to start. Sorry, I must be dreaming again.

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