Guest Blog: The importance of covering the courts

Martin Trepte, IPSO Board Member and veteran of local journalism, shares his views and early experiences of court reporting

Back in the late 1980s, when as a trainee I was first sent to cover court, I was fortunate enough to be able to ‘shadow’ my newspaper’s veteran court reporter – someone who was such an established fixture at our local magistrate’s that on the one occasion he wasn’t in place when court started, the bench delayed proceedings for a few minutes until he arrived (true story). 

That world is gone. Today’s journalists are time poor, juggling a huge workload of stories and – particularly in the regional press – a dedicated court reporter is the rarest of luxuries. 

IPSO’s new guidance on court reporting seeks to help address that imbalance. While not a step-by-step ‘how to’ guide to court reporting (there are several of those about, not least from the Society of Editors) it is a vital addition to the toolkit of any journalist reporting from court. 

Its purpose is to help you ensure your court reporting – both what you produce and how you behave – complies with the Editor’s Code of Conduct. 

The Code isn’t a set of proscriptions but a framework for navigating the difficult professional and ethical situations we encounter every day in our working lives. And this latest IPSO guidance will complement your training and experience by helping to identify and avoid the potential pitfalls of covering court for the inexperienced or simply rushed reporter. 

It contains vital information and useful advice based on the latest IPSO rulings. Up-to-date case studies of complaints – both upheld and rejected – explain and clarify how the Code applies and how to use it. 

And because it’s issued by the press regulator you can be sure it’s right. Being able to learn from our own mistakes is essential – but this gives us the opportunity to learn from other people’s. 

From Accuracy to Victims of Sexual Assault, the guidance looks in detail at how each relevant clause applies to court reporting and sets out the questions to ask yourself to ensure your copy is Code compliant and legally safe. 

Covering the courts is fundamental to the principle of open justice – that justice is not just done but seen to be done. This new guidance will provide added confidence to know what can – and can’t – be reported to ensure we fulfil our role as the eyes and ears of the public in court. 

To produce it has been an exhaustive process with input from working journalists, editors and media lawyers. It isn’t a top-down set of instructions imposed on the industry by its regulator but an important addition to IPSO’s growing body of guidance that aims to help reporters work to the highest standards – something that defines and distinguishes the journalism produced by IPSO members. 

Whether you cover Magistrate’s, Crown, Youth or Sherriff’s Court, this guidance is essential reading. If you’re new to court reporting it will be packed with essential advice and information. If you’re an old hand, you’ll find useful reminders and valuable insights based on the latest IPSO rulings. 

I’m sure even that legendary court reporter of old would have welcomed it. 

Published 18 March 2022