NMA Joins Editors To Voice Concerns Around Judicial Review and Courts Bill

The News Media Association has joined with editors and publishers across the industry to voice concerns around the provisions in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill which it is feared could impede journalists’ ability to report on court proceedings.

Coordinated by Evening Standard courts correspondent Tristan Kirk, the letter to HM Courts and Tribunal Service has been signed by editors, publishers and organisations including the Society of Editors and the NMA’s director of legal Sayra Tekin.  

The letter raises concerns that plans to move some proceedings out of open court and instead deal with them administratively could leave the media with no knowledge of the existence of a “substantial number of criminal cases” at the time they are placed before a court.

Journalists would instead be “heavily reliant on court results registers and phone calls and/or emails to magistrates court officials” to find out information which would otherwise have been heard in open court.

The letter warns that journalists would have no contemporaneous knowledge when triable either way cases are sent administratively to the Crown Court for plea and sentence, or when indications of plea are given in such cases.

Furthermore, reporters would have no contemporaneous knowledge of bail conditions that have been imposed in such hearings, editors warn. The above changes would create a “loss in public confidence that the open justice principle is being respected.”

The letter makes a series of recommendations to address the problems including the inclusion on public and media advance lists of every case that is placed before a magistrates court, a guarantee that post-court results registers will be delivered to the media within 24 hours of cases being dealt with administratively.

A mechanism for the media to apply to a magistrates court for documents that have been deployed in an administrative hearing including a prosecution summary of its case, written submissions on allocation and bail and indications of guilty and not guilty pleas.

A written rule that courts are prohibited from imposing reporting restrictions without an open court hearing – unless there are exceptional circumstances – should also be introduced, editors said.

“The above measures would not address all the media’s concerns arising from the Judicial Review and Courts Bill. However, they would go some way to protecting the basic position that justice is seen to be done,” editors said.