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Judges perform U-turn after court reporters hit with ‘bizarre’ ban

Guy BellJudges have performed a U-turn after imposing a “bizarre” ban on court reporters covering hearings remotely in one region of the UK.

Journalists who report on a number of courts in Yorkshire were told last week they must attend cases in person from now on, along with lawyers and other members of the public.

The ruling affected the North East judicial circuit, which also includes Crown Courts such as Durham, Newcastle and Teesside.

But following representations from journalists affected, judges have now reversed the policy, which was described by one court reporter as “bizarre”.

During the coronavirus pandemic, reporters covering many courts across the country have been able to access hearings via the Cloud Video Platform, an internet-based video meeting service.

But multiple journalists working in Yorkshire were told last week they could no longer use the CVP, citing a 2019 ruling in the case of R (Spurrier) v Secretary of State for Transport, in which it was ruled proceedings could not be live-streamed.

Yorkshire Live court reporter Guy Bell, who covers Crown Courts including Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield, was among those affected, along with others working for JPIMedia and Newsquest.

Discussing the original decision, Guy told HTFP: “[CVP] has been so useful for us and barristers, and just the safety side of stuff.

“If you’ve got concerned family members [of victims and defendants], why are you going to ask them to jump on public transport and sit in a packed public gallery?

“The timing of this is just bizarre with this whole new variant and worry we’re going to be put in another lockdown.”

Guy, pictured, received confirmation of the U-turn yesterday afternoon after journalists were deemed to be an extended part of the court, rather than recipients of an external broadcast.

He added: “We were all quite gutted when we were told CVP would no longer be available for most hearings, but thankfully we have it back.

“It has been used effectively and successfully at Sheffield Crown Court and everyone there has been great at communicating with us during the pandemic.

“I prefer physically going into court, but it’s nice to know we can still cover Leeds and Bradford without having to travel there, especially when Boris Johnson has decided to roll out Plan B.”

The issue of reporters covering court hearings remotely has been hotly debated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Plans to increase the use of virtual technology in courtrooms as part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 were welcomed earlier this year, with Northamptonshire Telegraph journalist Kate Cronin claiming the move would allow regional newsrooms to cover “double” the number of cases.

But last November Charlie Moloney, then of Reading-based Hyde News & Pictures, questioned whether more could be done to help journalists working from home after he covered the most “traumatising” trial of his career via remote link.

HTFP has approached the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary of England and Wales for a comment on the CVP decision in Yorkshire.