- Anything reported in a court is covered by Absolute Privilege so you can’t defame a person or get sued for writing anything false.
- Absolute privilege covers all courts, inquests/investigations and the Houses of Parliament.
- You have absolute privilege for fair, accurate contemporaneous court reports. You can print anything said in court as long as you publish both the prosecution and the defence case and publish it within days of the hearing.
- You can print that someone has been called a paedophile or a murderer if it is said in court even if later they are found not guilty.
- Although you can safely report courts you can’t breach court orders and it does not cover things shouted out in the public gallery.
- The court can place orders on cases to ban the media from reporting details in them, such as names of victims in sex offences, naming children and even naming defendants. If papers break these, they can face fines and imprisonment.
- A journalist should always ask the court clerk for the name, age and address of a defendant otherwise they could wrongly identify a person with the same name and get sued.
10 point rule
When a person appears at court there are 10 things you are allowed to report:
- Name of the court and magistrate
- Name, address, age and occupation of defendant
- Offence charged with
- Names of the solicitors
- The decision to commit for trial
- The court the defendant is committed to and due to appear at next
- Date of the next hearing
- If they are given bail
- If legal aid was given/granted
- The decision of the court to lift any restrictions
- The 10 point rule is to prevent a risk of harm/prejudice to a jury trial
- You can’t report a person’s previous convictions/crimes/trials
- You can’t report bail hearing or the reason for bail being refused: you can only say whether or not it was granted
- Double check the defendants picture before you publish
- If you print a former address of a defendant you need to state they don’t live there anymore or else you could face being sued by the current tenants
- If a defendant shouts he is innocent from the dock, you are allowed to report this as a jury would in due course know that the charge has been denied.
- To be able to write a full story for the paper when there are few facts available, the media usually describes the courtroom scene, such as what the defendant is wearing, how many people are in the public gallery, how long it lasted and what happens next.
- The courts are for defendants under 18
- The public aren’t allowed into youth courts but the media are if you can prove you’re a member of the press.
- Under section 47 of the Children and Young Persons Act, the press must not report the name, address, school or anything else that may identify a person under 18 concerned in trials: this includes defendants, witnesses or victims.
- You can say a 14 year old boy from East Hull but you can’t say a 14 year old boy from Thorngumbald because he could be recognised.
- If you breach the order you can be fined £5000.
- You can get around it by writing a report that does not mention that it was heard in a youth court e.g interview a young person who was stabbed as long as you don’t mention the court
- If the press argue that it is in the public’s interest, then you can lift the obscurity/namelessness/anonymity.