Reflection on Courts and Contempts of Court

There are many different courts:

  • Magistrate’s court- Anyone charged with any crime will be heard here first. Mostly adults but children can appear here for a serious case. Defendants are represented by solicitors and there are three magistrates that sit on the bench
  • Crown court – serious cases which carry a sentence of 6 months imprisonment or more. It hears appeals from the magistrates court
  • Youth court – 18 and under
  • High court
  • Civil court – Private disputes between individual and businesses
  • Family court – custody cases of children
  • Appeal court – appeals from the crown court are always heard at the court of appeal in London in front of 3 judges

Court Protocol:

  • Guards will search bags – no weapons or cameras allowed
  • No photographs to be taken inside the court building
  • When you enter a court room you must remain silent and bow to judge. If the judge is speaking you are not allowed to enter the court room until he has finished.
  • You cannot eat, drink, text or read papers in court
  • You must have permission form the judge to take notes unless you are a member of press.
  • Anything said in court you have absolute privilege

You can print whatever is said in court as long as you publish both the prosecution and the defence case – unless already found guilty – this can only be done within days after attending court.

Covering Court:

10 point rule (what you’re allowed to report) at a magistrate’s court:

  1. Name of court and magistrate
  2. Name, address, ages and occupation of defendant
  3. Offence charged with
  4. Name of solicitors
  5. Decision to commit for a trial
  6. Court defendant is committed to and due to appear at next
  7. Date of next hearing
  8. If they were given bail
  9. If legal aid was granted
  10. The decision of the court to lift any restrictions

If you breach the rules you can be fined and brought to court yourself

When proceedings start:

Contempt of court act:

  • Before a person is arrested the media can report all the facts of the case, interview victims and say a person’s previous convictions
  • Except for teachers – under the Education Act 2011 – media cannot report the name of the accused unless charged
  • The moment a person is arrested the restrictions are in place
  • Media can’t print anything which prejudices a person’s case and the right to a fair trial (innocent until proven guilty)
  • Proceedings start when:
  1. A person is arrested
  2. A warrant for arrest has been issued
  3. A summons has been issued
  4. A person is charged
  5. An appeal has been lodged
  • You need to check with the police before you go to print to check if a person has been charged or not – it will change the story you’re allowed to print if they have

The 10 point rule prevents a risk of prejudice to a jury trial

If in the charge that is read to defendant says details of circumstances are given you can report these

  • You are not allowed to report on a person’s previous convictions.
  • You cannot say why a person was refused bail but you can report if it was granted or not.
  • You need to check pictures before publishing in case identity is going to be an issue in the case.

If you print the former address of a defendant you must state they do not live there anymore or you might be sued by the present occupants.

If the defendant shouts from the dock that he is innocent you can report this as a jury would know in due course that the charge has been denied.

To write a full story for the paper when there aren’t many facts the media usually describes the court room scene e.g. what the defendant was wearing, how many people in the public gallery, what the defendant looks like, the background of the area that the crime took place etc.

Youth Courts:

  • Public are not allowed in but the media can be there
  • Under section 47 of the Children and Young Persons Act the press must not report the name, address, school or anything that might identify a person under 18. This can be a defendant, witness or victims.
  • A youth Court can lift the anonymity if the press if it is in public interest e.g. ASBO’s
  • You can get around it by writing a report that does not mention it was heard in a Youth Court.

It is contempt of court:

  • To take pictures inside court/crown court building
  • To record proceedings
  • To pay witnesses for stories who are due to appear in and up and coming trial. You can pay them and interview them after they have given evidence but not before

Contempt:

  • Having disrespect for rules and orders of court
  • You are in contempt if you publish material that might prejudice a fair trial and influence the jurors mind
  • In law you are in contempt if a publication creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice to proceedings and proceedings are active
  • You can face fines and five years in prison
  • You are in contempt if you should in courts, tape record or even eats sweets in courts
  • You are in contempt if you identify a juror
  • You are in contempt if you breach a court order e.g. section 39 – order on a child

2 types of contempt:

  1. Common law – publishing material which creates a substantial risk of prejudice to proceedings (imminent or pending), breach by being reckless, by publishing interviews with witnesses during a trial.
  2. Strict Liability – publishing material which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice to active proceedings. The court decides if the publication has created the risk regardless of the writer’s motives.

Contempt starts when proceedings are active (listed earlier)

Contempt resumes if a defendant lodges an appeal.

Contempt Ends:

  1. When a person is released without charge
  2. No arrest is made within 12 months of a warrant being issued
  3. Case discontinued
  4. The defendant is acquitted or sentences
  5. Defendant is found unfit to be tried

Substantial Risk:

  • Publish facts at a distance before the trial because it is likely the jury will forget what they’ve heard.
  • This means as long as there is a 4 month gap before a trial you can publish more information.
  • Under “substantial risk” you are able to publish more details of a case if it is being held in a different area. Only in papers – not on-line as it could be seen by jurors.

Before Sentence:

  • When a person has pleaded guilty or found guilty proceedings are still active until sentence.
  • Media can still print background cases in breach of order and be safe to do so
  • Because you cannot prejudice a judge.

As a journalist the information above is key this outlines the laws of what I can and can not publish if writing for courts. it outlines key protocol and facts. The ten point rule I will have to try and memorise for the exam as this I think is really important. if these rules are broken then the company I may work for may get into trouble and sued. it will also affect me and my credibility and reputation.

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