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Journalist slams judge who wrongly refused remote trial access

Tom BevanA journalist who was refused remote access to a crown court trial has hit back at the judge who accused him of wasting his time by requesting the right to cover the hearing.

Tom Bevan has criticised His Honour Judge Peter Blair KC, the Recorder of Bristol, who inaccurately claimed journalists only have the right to access pre-trial and sentencing hearings via video.

Former Exeter Express & Echo reporter Tom, who is now specialist content editor at Bristol-based news agency the South West News Service, had submitted a standard request to join the Cloud Video Platform for two trials at Bristol Crown Court when he received the “baffling” response.

Courts and Tribunals Judiciary guidance allows CVP access for journalists for “proceedings of any type” that are either held entirely in public or to which the media or researchers are admitted.

But, responding to Tom in an email seen by HTFP, the judge told a member of court staff: “Could you please express my surprise to Mr Bevan that he is taking up our time by making such requests.

“He should know that crown court trials in England and Wales are not streamed to the press. We may permit remote attendance in pre-trial and sentencing hearings but not where witnesses are giving evidence.”

Tom, pictured, told HTFP: “While I appreciate remote access via a CVP is not an automatic right for journalists, there are clear guidelines that should be applied when dealing with a request.

“For a senior judge to express ‘annoyance’ at a journalist for wasting their time in submitting such a request in timely fashion is unacceptable behaviour.

“I accept there are certain criteria that means that not all requests can be approved, but the most concerning part is their complete apparent lack of understanding of guidance as it stands.

“For the judge to say he was ‘surprised’ that I didn’t know the rules that ‘remote access was not allowed for journalists in trials in the crown court’ left me baffled.

“I have covered multiple trials this way in crown courts across the country where witnesses have been giving evidence – including ones in front of this very judge.

“It is worrying that arbiters of justice are seemingly unaware of such basic guidance. With limited editorial resources covering courts these days, CVP has allowed many more important cases to be covered that otherwise wouldn’t have.

“That is surely in the interests of open justice, which is something this judge and all others involved in the judicial process should be striving to achieve.

“Since posting about it, multiple other journalists have been in touch outlining the issues and problems they’ve had with similar requests. I think a reminder to judges across the country would be timely and welcome.”

A Courts and Tribunals Judiciary spokesman said the service would not comment on a judge’s specific decision regarding a particular application, but a spokesman added: “Generally, though, decisions about remote access are for the judges hearing individual cases.”