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Why we cover court: city website responds to defendants’ complaints

A city website has published an “explainer” setting out why it covers court cases after receiving complaints from defendants about seeing their names in print.

Journalists at Birmingham Live say they have been asked why they have published reports of cases without the “permission” of defendants and faced demands to take stories down from the site.

Now they have published a lengthy article which aims to answer some of the questions and explain why court coverage is in the public interest.

Editor-in-chief Marc Reeves says a link to the piece will now be included in future court reports.

Birmingham Magistrates' Court, on Corporation Street

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, on Corporation Street

In the piece, head of trends James Rodgers writes: “BirminghamLive’s team of journalists report on [court] proceedings, but it can regularly surprise people, and sometimes anger them, when details are published.

“So we have come up with some frequently asked questions and answers to hopefully help people understand our role better.”

Among the questions the piece seeks to address are: “I (or someone I know) was recently a defendant in a court case. Why didn’t BirminghamLive ask my permission report on it?”

James gives the reponse: “The simple answer is, we don’t have to.”

Another question concerns whether defendants can ask for a court report to be taken off the website.

James responds: “Under the principle of open justice, BirminghamLive has a duty to ensure justice is ‘seen to be done’, meaning we publish court stories and they remain on our website as a public record.”

Marc told HTFP: “There’s definitely a sense in our newsrooms across the Midlands and further afield that readers are quicker to complain now about our court coverage, especially as it’s getting more read as our online audiences grow bigger and bigger.

“In Birmingham we have created a new reporter role to cover just the city’s magistrate’s court in addition to our existing crown court reporter, so we’re covering more cases in more detail than we’ve done for a long time.

“Consequently, those going through the legal system are surprised to see their names online and in print, and don’t always understand why that is, and we are seeing more complaints as a result.

“I think it’s important to explain as simply as possible how the system works, and our role in upholding the principles of open justice. James Rodgers’ article does just that, and links to this will be featured on many court cases in the future.

The full piece can be read here.


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  • March 2, 2020 at 10:33 am

    as they say, if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime. Being reported in the local press is all part of the deterrent, though generally court coverage is lamentably thin compared to 20 or 30 years ago. Papers used to have two reporters at magistrates court and others at crown, or picked up agency copy. Then agencies found it wasn’t worth the money papers started to offer, and papers shed reporters; so that’s where we are now. At least some papers like this are making an effort.

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  • March 2, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    The difference is that in ‘online’ reporting the story may be searchable forever. T
    The conviction would have always been searchable in an archive but nowadays can ‘dog’ a ‘criminal’ as long as it is online and often well outside the intent of the: Rehabilitation of offenders Act at:
    When I was reporting latterly I got into the habit of putting a ‘down date’ on online court stories at which point they would no longer appear on the world wide web.

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  • March 2, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    This is an indictment of local papers’ severe emaciation, and marginalised court reporting, during the past few years. Traditionally, court coverage would be a familiar staple of a print newspaper, and the paper itself an integral component of day-to-day life in its patch. Most defendants would probably be at least dimly aware, and many acutely conscious, of the likelihood of their case being routinely reported, even if only in a brief summary list. Birmingham Live and some other regional websites may still skeletally cover courts in online form, but routine quasi-comprehensive reportage has become less of ‘a thing’ to younger generations.

    Even if proper court reporting did still appear in papers, it would be gallingly arrogant for defendants – at least, guilty ones – to request their cases be withheld.

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