A judge has doubled down on his refusal to give journalists remote access to a murder trial on the grounds that they may not be paying attention to proceedings.
His Honour Judge Peter Blair KC, the Recorder of Bristol, has also claimed the presence of reporters via video link could affect witnesses’ evidence and argued streaming the trial “would put too much of a burden” on him.
HTFP reported last week how Judge Blair had refused former South West News Service specialist content editor Tom Bevan the right to cover the trial in question remotely after inaccurately claiming journalists only have the right to access pre-trial and sentencing hearings via video.
Justifying his decision in a follow-up email to Tom, the judge also cited a claim by a lawyer defending Nicholas Stutt, who is charged with murdering Lewis Smith, that a previous case they worked on had been misreported by a journalist attending remotely.
In the email, which has been seen by HTFP, Judge Blair wrote: “The defence KC is concerned about me granting such an application because in the most recent murder case with which he was involved he tells me there was a serious misreporting error due, he believes, to the journalist in that case paying insufficient attention to the transmitted proceedings and reporting something wrongly.
“This is very much a concern of mine because I have no way of knowing whether the journalist watching a CVP feed will be giving his undivided attention to this trial, or intermittently observing it and thus missing some of the physical events in court (such as a jury being sent out of court) so as to know what is and is not part of the reportable parts of the case.
“The trial I am about to embark upon involves witnesses who were close to the defendant and the deceased.
“Special measures for different witnesses have yet to be finally determined for each and I do not know if any of them may be affected in their evidence or concerned about being seen and described by the press.”
The judge added: “Streaming our trial to journalists would put too much of a burden on the administration of justice in me constantly having to monitor the suitability of each aspect of the trial being observed remotely.
“The interests of transparency and the public understanding of proceedings can be achieved by the traditional facilities of sitting in open court with ample space for the press to attend and report. In all the circumstances this application is refused.”
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.
Tom, pictured, told HTFP: “While the ultimate approval for remote access always rests with a judge, the justification used to refuse it in this trial is bizarre to say the least.
“Any journalist who is trained in law and shorthand will know how to cover a trial and stay within legal parameters. To question the integrity of the profession is an overreach and isn’t what the judge should take into account when considering requests.
“Hundreds of trials and hearings have been covered via CVP since access was extended on a permanent basis since covid. While there are still many benefits to attending in person, being able to access hearings remotely has still enabled many more cases to be covered.
“The judge said he consulted with the defence barrister, who raised concern as a previous trial he had been involved with had an ‘error,’ which he ‘believed’ was from the journalist not paying attention on CVP.
“I don’t know the details of this mistake but, even if true, one error from another journalist covering a different trial at a different time shouldn’t set a precedent
” Paying attention to a trial and reporting it fairly, accurately and contemporaneously can be done whether you are there in person or observing remotely.
“It is clear this judge has little to no trust in journalists to do their job properly and I think many in the industry will find his comments insulting to the profession.”