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New plans could help regional newsrooms cover ‘double’ number of court cases

Kate CroninRegional newsrooms may be able to cover “double” the number of cases they cover thanks to Government plans to increase the use of virtual technology in courtrooms, it has been predicted.

The Ministry of Justice plans to make virtual technology a permanent fixture of court hearings in the future, allowing reporters to join some hearings remotely, following its increased use during the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal is among a raft of new measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021.

Northamptonshire Telegraph journalist Kate Cronin, pictured, has been among those to welcome the plans.

Posting on Twitter, she said: “This will allow our newsroom (and I should think most others) to cover at least double the court cases we could before CVP was introduced.

“It also means we can do other work while waiting for cases to be called on. It’s a huge leap forward for open justice.”

Speaking to HTFP, Kate said the pandemic had “already changed” the way regional journalists cover the criminal justice system.

She said: “When our local magistrates’ courts were shut a few years ago, and the coroner moved all her cases to Northampton, it meant we had an hour-long round journey if we wanted to cover any cases at all. In a small newsroom with limited staff, this was difficult.

“There have been many teething problems with the cloud video platform (CVP) system but we’ve found court staff becoming more accommodating during the past few months and most of those original issues have been ironed out.

“While there is still some way to go with the technology, we are extremely grateful to those judges and court staff in Northampton that have worked with us to sort out the technical problems we experienced.

“CVP has now completely changed the way in which we cover court cases. Many trials that we would previously not have been able to report on at all have been covered entirely using the CVP system.

“We can also listen in to in pre-trial hearings so we are better prepared for when the case eventually comes to trial. It also means that we are able to get on with other work rather than hanging around in the court house waiting for a case to be called on.

“I’m really pleased that the system is now being extended to other courts and is being formalised under the new Justice Bill. It can only be a good thing that the press and the public have greater access to the criminal justice system.”

The plans have also been welcomed by Tristan Kirk, court reporter at London’s Evening Standard.

He posted on Twitter: “If this passes into law, next step would be to codify that journalists can, in the same way as lawyers and judges, ask to join a hearing remotely when appropriate.

“Judges can also make wider use of videolinks and/or overspill courts when interest in a case is especially high.

“I should add the usual caveat, that courts and tribunals must remain open for any and all journalists who want to attend in person.

“Videolinks are not substitutes for in-person reporting, but rather a tool to enhance what we already do.”

The plan has also been welcomed by the News Media Association.

An NMA spokesperson said: “The News Media Association welcomes the proposals to increase the use of virtual technology in court rooms, provided of course that this does not impact upon the ability of reporters to cover proceedings in person.

“Over the past year, the NMA has worked with court authorities and other bodies on practical arrangements to minimise the impact of the pandemic upon open justice.

“We look forward to continuing this work to enhance news media’s ability to cover the courts on behalf of the public.”