NUJ backs call for Government rethink on Judicial Review and Courts Bill

  • 11 Mar 2022

Current bill proposals will significantly restrict media knowledge and pose a serious risk to open justice.

The NUJ has backed a call from crime and court reporters across the country for the government to think again about damaging provisions within the Judicial Review and Courts Bill.

As it stands, without substantive amendment, the NUJ believes this bill poses a serious risk to open justice.

A Memo shared by HM Courts and Tribunal Service makes clear that the media’s knowledge of a substantial number of court cases would be adversely affected under this proposed legislation, thereby severely impeding the ability of a journalist to report accurately and contemporaneously on proceedings.

Under the proposed arrangements, it appears the media will:

  • have no knowledge of the existence of a substantial number of criminal cases at the time they are placed before a court
  • have no contemporaneous knowledge when Triable Either Way (TEW) cases are sent administratively to the Crown Court for plea and sentence
  • have no contemporaneous knowledge when indications of plea in TEW cases are given administratively and not at a first hearing in open court
  • have no contemporaneous knowledge of bail conditions that have been imposed in such hearings
  • have no contemporaneous knowledge of the existence of Indictable Only (IO) cases which are administratively sent to the Crown Court
  • be heavily reliant on court results registers and phone calls and/or emails to magistrates court officials to make up some of the above shortfall

The NUJ believes that the open justice principle is being heavily compromised by the proposed reforms of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, and operational arrangements being suggested go nowhere near addressing these concerns. The Bill proposals involve moving criminal proceedings out of open court, delivering substantial financial savings.

If criminal cases are dealt with administratively as proposed, it appears to the media that the consequences will be:

  • a dramatic reduction in knowledge of the substance of criminal cases before the courts
  • a significant reduction in the volume and quality of media reports of court proceedings
  • a substantial legal ‘grey area’ for reporters, between the court’s administrative decisions and publication of post-court registers
  • a total loss of contemporaneous court reporting
  • a marked increase in requests for information from court officials, the HMCTS press office, and other bodies
  • a loss in public confidence that the open justice principle is being respected

In a letter to HM Courts and Tribunal Service, supported by scores of editors, court and crime reporters, and legal journalists, a series of recommendations have been tabled to protect the basic position that justice is seen to be done:

  • the inclusion on public and media advance lists of every case that is placed before a magistrates court
  • a guarantee that post-court results registers will be delivered to the media within 24 hours of cases being dealt with administratively
  • a mechanism for the media to apply to a magistrates court for documents that have been deployed in an administrative hearing. These would include:
    • a prosecution summary of its case
    • written submissions on allocation and bail
    • indications of guilty and not guilty pleas
  • a written rule that courts are prohibited from imposing reporting restrictions without an open court hearing – unless there are exceptional circumstances

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