Within United Kingdom there are many differences between English
and Welsh courts and Scottish courts.
First of all, we must discuss the different types of court,
there are crown courts, coroners courts, magistrate courts and family courts
and all deal with cases differently hence meaning different restrictions for
Crown courts hold automatic restrictions on what can be
reported in the early stages of a trial such as the preliminary hearings.
As crown courts deal with serious crimes, for example rape,
there will often be victims of sexual offences involved in the cases held at that
type of court. Victims of sexual offences are entitled to their identities
being kept private whether someone gets prosecuted, convicted or not, even if
the allegation is withdrawn. and are given the option of new identities which
presents a restriction on journalists reporting on such a case.
In cases concerning minors, whether the person under the age
of 18 be a defendant, victim or witness, there is also a restriction and in
England and Wales under 18-year-olds identities are kept private, again, making
it hard for journalists to report on a case involving them. This, however, is
slightly different in Scotland. In Scotland a young person accused of criminal
behaviour is treated as an adult from the age of 16 onward, the only exception to
this is in a Children’s Hearing.
In family courts, restrictions on journalists are dependent on
each particular case. Journalists have to check with the judge of the case at
hand before the actual trial as the judge can apply their own restrictions for
As we are discussing family courts it is not uncommon for
children to be involved in cases dealt n them. It is important that a journalist
must not publish information about a child or children, including names, ages,
addresses and the schools they attend and any other information that could make
them easily identified by the public. This also includes the information of
adults in the case that are connected to the child or children as it could also
lead to the children being identified.
There is also the risk of “jigsaw” identification. This
refers to the public piecing together other published information thus working
out who the unnamed people are in the case.
Journalist are expected to prepare before dealing with a
court case in these countries. Journalist should contact the relevant administrative
team for the court where the case in question will be, for higher profile cases
journalists are advised to check the Judicial Communications Office. From doing
so a journalist will require relevant information and will also be made aware
of specific restrictions for journalists that judges may have made.
Journalists need to keep in touch with courts too as any
court orders that judges have put in place can restrict what is allowed to be
Journalists must also seek legal advice before publishing
any background information they have researched and written about while a case
is being heard.
In terms of television, photos and videos need to be checked
before used on TV. Lawyers are often a good source to consult if a journalist
is in doubt about what can be published.
Photos used must not contain children or connections of children
involved in the case, they also must not have any pics of victims of sexual
offences. No photographs can be released
that feature jurors entering or leaving court, even if it was by accident.
Restrictions are in place to stop bias information being
published that could manipulate jurors to think that a defendant might be
guilty. General restrictions apply automatically in all courts, these restrictions
can be found under the contempt of court act which was updated in 1981. The act
was created to clarify to journalists what is and is not allowed in court.
One restriction that would be a contempt of court is
interviewing a witness before a trial or pressuring them into an interview
after a trial.
Courts can lift or place restrictions on journalists at any
times, hence the importance for journalists to check before trials.
Journalists are restricted to what they can report on in magistrate
courts, overall they are limited to publishing the name of the court, the
judges in charge of the case, a summary of the charges, the names, addresses,
ages and occupations of the defendants along with witnesses and the lawyers
involved and arrangements as to bail.
Within this act is the strict liability rule which involves any
writing or speech that is set to be published to the public. The rule is
specifically for publications which make a high risk on the course of justice
in the proceedings that are being reported on to be seriously impeded or
prejudiced. Although, if a journalist had reported a fair and accurate account
of legal proceedings held in public than the journalist will not be held guilty
of contempt of court under the strict liability rule.
Any type of recording device, whether it be a tape recorder, or a
mobile device is a contempt of court.
The hardest part of not breaking these restrictions for
journalists is the ethical element of reporting. The law always provides what the
society sees at the outer limits of acceptable behaviour. Codes of ethics are
within these boundaries. The main difference between law and ethics is that law
means what society belive we must do and ethics is what the profession and society
believe we should do.
Journalists also always have to debate what is in public interest
when it comes to reporting. What is of public interest and what is in the
publics interest are two different things.