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Court staff given new guidance on helping journalists covering hearings

HMCTS guidanceCourt staff across the country have been issued with new guidance aimed at helping them to assist journalists covering hearings.

Last month HTFP reported how a youth court usher had attempted to bar Bristol Post journalist Alex Wood from a hearing – only to admit when challenged that she “didn’t know” why he should be denied access.

And in January, an usher and a clerk tried to ban Birmingham Mail investigations editor Jeanette Oldham from entering Worcester Crown Court in the mistaken belief that the judge had imposed a reporting restriction which meant that she was not allowed to attend the hearing.

Now HM Courts & Tribunals Service has drawn up the guidelines in conjunction with a working group of media representatives including members of the News Media Association and the Society of Editors.

The guidance, which has been made publicly available, is “part of a wider effort to build stronger working relationships between courts and the press”.

It explains the general rights of journalists attending courts and offers advice on how to assist them, while separate documents have also been produced to help guide staff working in criminal courts, civil courts, family courts and tribunals when they come into contact with the media.

Santha Rasaiah, of the NMA, said: “Open Justice is vital to the rule of law and is achieved, in practice, by press reporting of courts and tribunals to the wider public. That depends not just on the legal framework, but the day to day practicalities of journalistic access and reporting.

“The NMA therefore warmly welcomed both the opportunity to work with HMCTS on this new guidance and its wider publication. A ready reference, providing common guidance, will assist court, press and public alike. We hope that it will promote further constructive co-operation, court reporting and public understanding of the work of our justice system.”

SoE executive director Ian Murray added: “This is an important initiative and the Society is delighted to have been able to assist in helping to reinforce these guidelines to court staff and journalists.

“If the public is to have faith in the justice system it must see it in action and that means ensuring journalists have access to courts and the necessary information to do their jobs. At the same time court staff need to have simple guidelines as to what is permissible. There is more to do but the work carried out so far is extremely important.”

HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said impartial media court reporting was an “important way of maintaining public confidence” in the system.

She added: “This reshaped guidance, which we are publishing for the first time, is designed to give our staff easily accessible information so they can support all those reporting on proceedings in courts across the country. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who helped put it together.

“We will continue to work closely with stakeholders to promote good working relationships between HMCTS and regional media. Their insight and expertise will ensure our ongoing programme of reform not only maintains but, wherever possible, enhances open justice.”

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