Saturday, 9 October 2010


Here are my notes on this week's lecture about court reporting.

The main point: Risk of PREJUDICE leads to CONTEMPT.

As journalists, we need to know when there is risk of printing certain details and when there isn't.

Here is a simple example...

EVENT 1: (10am) Man steals £4,000 from a post office. Press release to that effect sent out by police.

At this point, we can use the information given to us to print that story. We are at the (short-lived) safe point. No one has been arrested. For example, we would take audio from Mrs Ivy Jones (the victim/owner who was supervising the shop at the time).

EVENT 2: (4pm) Man arrested in connection with alleged offence.

Case is now legally active.

Story will be similar to the morning's, still beware of accidental identification at this point and keep checking with the police as to whether an arrest is about to be made. If your next bulletin is at 4.30pm and you think there is a good chance he may be arrested before then, air on the side of caution (e.g - don't include audio from victim etc).

EVENT 3: (5pm) Man charged.

The case will now go to Crown Court as it is an indictable offence, meaning a possible sentence of five years or more. For this reason, anything that may be used as evidence, such as the audio used earlier, has to be omitted and made untracable.

A case is legally active when:

1. Police make arrest
2. An arrest warrant has been issued
3. Magistrates issue summons
4. A person is charged

- Police normally have 24 hours to question a suspect
- It can be extended by 12 hours by a senior officer
- It can be extended a further 36 hours if magistrates agree

- It cannot exceed 96 hours

The limit for terror suspects is a lot longer. The controversial 28 days.

Cases are always sexed up and ridiculously unrealistic on TV and always happen at a Crown Court. On the other hand, Magistrates Courts are the place for minor crimes/disputes - basically the non-juicy stuff!

However, Magistrates still have significant powers, which are:

1. Six months jail sentence or £5,000 fine
2. Suspended sentence
3. Conditional discharge (e.g - don't offend within 12 months)
4. Community service orders (may be worth covering if the person plays for Winchester City or Southampton, depending on what publication you work for)
5. Binding over (e.g. - sum of £500)
6. ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders)

IMPORTANT: Here are the only things you can say when reporting to avoid avoid prejudicing potential jurors.

- Name and age
- Address and occupation
- Charge(s)
- Date and place of Crown Court hearing
- Bail and legal aid conditions
- Names of counsel

REMEMBER: Any risk of PREJUDICE leads to CONTEMPT...Contempt of Court to be exact, which is a strict liability offence.

Key Stages of trial

1. Opening
2. Prosecution opening
3. Key prosecution witness
4. Defence opening
5. Key defence witnesses
6. Judge's summary
7. Jury sent out (deliberation/verdict)
8. Sentencing

This is where you need to convince your News Editor to give you time to cover the trial. You have to cover days when the defence speak as well as the prosecution, otherwise your reporting of the trial will appear unbalanced if you decide. Therefore, your News Editor has to decide whether it is high profile enough.

Qualified privilege (QP)

Journalists have legal protection when reporting the courts. It prevents them from being accused of contempt of court and getting an action for libel. This is known as qualified privilege (QP). However, this privilege is lost if your reporting is not fast (in the next available bulletin/edition), accurate (importance of shorthand) and fair (free from malice).


BBC College of Journalism - The Reynolds Defence

Chris' notes from course site

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