Reporters should not be denied video access to courts

  • 03 Dec 2021

The NUJ has written to judges serving the North east circuit courts, over a decision which appears to be preventing reporters having video access to proceedings.

The letter from Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“I am writing on behalf of NUJ members who are concerned that an interpretation of Regina (Spurrier) v Secretary of State for Transport is preventing reporters from access to your courts. The pandemic has allowed reporters video access to courts which has ensured that the justice system continues to be open to scrutiny and reported on.

“The change of policy seems particularly surprising as there is an on-going Parliamentary inquiry into the reporting of courts that has heard from numerous expert witnesses who have attested to the benefits of media video access to court proceedings.

“There is widespread agreement in our newsrooms that the video access has allowed much more frequent reporting of the courts and that is in the public interest, as it puts the principle of open justice into practice. The technology allows the creation of a “virtual press bench” where court reporters should be able to apply for a link and access to court documents digitally.”

NUJ members were particularly concerned because the new variant of Covid-19 could cause further restrictions. Social distancing still takes place in courts and this has prevented reporters who have turned up in person access to the courtroom because of capacity issues. The letter asked that if video access is denied, the courts should guarantee at least one place in every courtroom reserved for a reporter, allowing a pool system to operate if necessary.

The House of Commons Justice Committee is holding an inquiry into open justice and court reporting in the digital age. The NUJ’s submission said the availability of video access should be the default position.

Update: December 10, 2021

Hold the Front Page reports:  Judges perform U-turn after court reporters hit with ‘bizarre’ ban

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