In allowed in court. Courts can lift

In this essay I will be discussing the major restrictions that
are placed on journalists when reporting from a court of law in the United
Kingdom. I will discuss why these restrictions are in place and the ethical
challenges journalists face.

Some 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. Courts
can lift or place restrictions on journalists at any times.

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Journalist are expected to prepare before dealing with a
court case in the UK. They must seek legal advice before publishing any
background information they have researched and written about while a case is
going on. They should contact the relevant administrative team for the court
where the case will be. For higher profile cases journalists are advised to
check with the Judicial Communications Office. From doing so a journalist will
obtain relevant information and will also be made aware of specific restrictions
that judges may have made. Journalists need to keep in touch with courts after
initial trials too as any court orders that judges have put in place can
restrict what can be reported.

Within the United Kingdom there are many differences between
English and Welsh courts compared to Scottish courts. First, we must discuss
the different types of court, there are crown courts, coroner’s courts, magistrate courts and family
courts and they all deal with different types of cases, resulting in each having
different restrictions.

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. These victims are entitled to their identities being kept
private whether someone gets prosecuted, convicted or not, even if the
allegation is withdrawn. They are also given the option of new identities which
presents a restriction on journalists reporting on such cases as this limits
the amount of detail they can provide to the public in their work. The reason
for this restriction is because “the person in respect of whom the order would
be made has reasonable grounds to fear intimidation or harm if they were
identified.”  (The Crown Prosecution
Service, 2017)

In England and Wales, minors, whether the child or teenager
be a defendant, victim or witness, are also entitled to their identity being
kept anonymous, providing another restriction for journalists reporting on a
case involving under 18-year-olds. However, this is different in Scotland as a
young people suspected of criminal behaviour are treated as adult from the age
of 16 onward, the only exception to this is in a Children’s Hearing. A child’s
identity is often kept private because of a variety of reasons, for example in
the eyes of the law, they are not adults and so cannot make their own decisions
as to whether they want their identity shared.

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.

In family courts, restrictions on journalists are dependent
on each particular case. As it is 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. (Collins Dictionary, 2013)

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 to publish. Photos used must not
contain children or connections of children involved in cases, 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 the photo was taken not
with the intention of having a juror in it and just an accident.

Within the Contempt of Court 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.

It is also stated in the Contempt of Court Act 1981 that any type
of recording device, whether it be a tape recorder, or a mobile device or any
sound recording equipment without permission from the court is an act of
contempt, also any publishing of the recordings are also classed as an act of

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 to publish. Photos used must not contain children or
connections of children involved in cases, 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 the photo was taken not with the intention
of having a juror in it and just an accident.

The hardest part of not breaking these restrictions for
journalists is the ethical element of reporting. The law always provides what
the society sees as 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 believe we must do and ethics is what the profession and
society believe we should do.

Journalists 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. For journalists to report ethically they
have to be accurate and fair. The public are entitled to as much information as
possible to judge for themselves what they make of a story and whether they
trust the sources used to report a story too. When applying this to a court
story it can be ethically hard for a journalist to follow, as on one side they
feel they owe the public the whole story and want to share all the details they
can, such as names and ages of victims for example. However, on the other hand
they must not break the law and the contempt of court act. So, they have to
judge whether, say, revealing a victim’s name is information that the public
need and whether this outweighs the cost of harm it could cause to the victim. This
also applies to criminals too.

A good example of this is with the Baby P case. The Baby P case
was a famous case about the abuse a child suffered over the course of over a
year until his unfortunate death. The story was reported on for years as new
information was released but originally Baby Peter’s abusers were kept
anonymous which the public thought was outrageous. A report by Caroline Gammell
(2009) describes how the public felt: “The legal restrictions concealing their
names caused anger and provoked criticism on the internet from those who felt
they did not deserve the protection of anonymity.” However, anonymity can be
complicated as the law was in place to protect Baby Peter’s siblings, not
necessarily to protect the offenders. In the end though judge Justice Coleridge
ruled that Connelly and Barker should be named for their crimes “sooner
rather than later.” Gammell reported that the judge said: “it was a question of
balancing the public’s right to know who the perpetrators were and the
protection of any minors who may be linked to the case.”

Another real-life example of a case where a victim’s name was
revealed is in 2005 on May 16th. Two children went missing: eight-year-old
Shasta Groene and her nine-year-old brother Dylan Groene. Eventually they were
found thanks to their names and descriptions being publicised. It also was revealed
that the two siblings had been sexually abused. Despite children and sexually
abused victims’ names usually being kept anonymous to the media, as Dylan and
Shasta’s names had been revealed to help find them, the news continued to
identify them.

In the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (2014),
it says to “seek the truth and report it”, however it also says, “use heightened
sensitivity when dealing with juvenile, victims of sex crimes.” Much like the
rules in the Contempt of Court Act, this is where a journalist must judge for
themselves whether the public interest is higher than the victim or offenders
interest and right.

In conclusion, when it comes to journalists reporting on court
cases there are many restrictions automatically in place, there are also
restrictions applied to specific cases by judges. All restrictions are in place
for good reason and in the interest of those involved in the case, so it is for
a journalist to make ethical decisions whilst also abiding the law.