Court reporting for a journalist is extremely useful. But it is esstential that you must have the presumption of innocence. Journalists are given the qualified privilege to report from court. Therefore their privilege is trusted, it must be:
1- Accurate (incorrect name spelling could cause for the liability to sue). Journalists are the ears and eyes of the public.
2- Fast- recordings are banned in the UK courts therefore shorthand allows journalist to instantly record the information.
3- Fair- the story must balance both ideas that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.
Any citizen in the UK can sit in the public gallery at court, given they do not contempt of court.
The contempt of court is a strict liability offence! Any normal person can easily give a prejudice view on a situation or person. For a journalist this strictly cannot happen. Whilst a court reporting is taking place, the Jury must judge the person only on the given evidence. Stories and gossip outside of court can cause a person to judge with a prejudice. This has serious consequences as an act as a contempt of court. A trial cannot continue under prejudice and those creating the prejudice will be taken libel and even sentenced to a 5 year prison sentence.
|Joanna Yeates trial, prejudce media coverage lead to libel action.|
I have looked at the Joanna Yeates murder trial which was an interesting case of how basic principle of presumption of innocence was distroyed. At the time the man arrested for questioning, Chris Jefferies launched contempt of court proceedings against the tabloid newspapers; The Daily Mirror and the Sun. Contempt of court proceedings are infrequently issued against newspapers, and only invoked where it is believed that media coverage of a case could prejudice the outcome of any trial. Tabloid media coverage of the arrest of Jefferies was intense and with social networking sites such as Twitter also trending the topic, the trial becomes impossible to solve due to the prejudice.
Basic Legal principles when reporting from court:
1- Presumption of innocence untill proven guilty in a criminal court.
This can relate to Mens Rea which describes a guilty mind, and Actus Reus which therefore describes an act which is potentially criminal.
2- Justice must seen to be done- trials must be held in public unless there is strong reason why not. (national security, protection of children, protection of rape victims)
3- Evidence- based justice, the right to have evidence based by jury of peers. Magna carta
Roles in a criminal court:
The Jury- are small group of people taken from the public; they must judge a case purely on the evidence given. Juries decide on innocence or guilt not how much punishment a person receives.
The Judge- in the Crown Court are High court Judges, circuit judges and recorders. The most serious cases (treason, murder, rape etc.) are allocated to High Court Judges and Senior Circuit Judges. The Judge in court makes sure everything is orderly and runs smoothly. The Judge decides on the sentence.
Crown court seems like an interesting place to be for anybody, but I’m sure I would have a look of confusion on my face. With my homework of the week to visit Winchester's crown court I will sure be blogging about it soon.
That's enough of court reporting I have grasped the importance of it from a journalistic view but the three rules are stuck in my head. To be accurate, fair, and fast.