Communications Officer Freddie Locock-Harrison explains why court reporting is important and explores some considerations around use of social media.
The Justice Committee’s inquiry ‘Open justice: court reporting in the digital age’ is investigating how media coverage of the courts has changed in recent years, particularly with the advent of new technology and social media.
Newspapers routinely report what happens in court as part of making sure that justice happens fairly. It is important that the public is told about what happens so they can see justice in action, commonly known as ‘open justice’. Journalists will often attend court to report on the cases being heard.
As with all reporting, journalists reporting on court cases for IPSO regulated publishers must follow the rules set by the Editors’ Code of Practice. Certain legal restrictions apply as well − all photography and filming in courts and tribunals is strictly forbidden, as is making a portrait or sketch of any person in court.
There are also important considerations to be aware of around use of social media in court reporting.
Links to ongoing cases
If you post a link on a social media platform to a report on active/ongoing criminal proceedings, you have a legal duty to take reasonable care when doing so under the Contempt of Court Act 1980. Failure to do so can result in a fine or a custodial sentence.
When posting links related to ongoing criminal proceedings to social media sites, you should warn social media users that they must not post relate comments that may prejudice the investigation or a fair trial. If it is possible on the social media platform you are using, consider removing the ability to post comments altogether.
Journalists have been allowed to tweet or live blog during court cases, without making a formal application to the judge first since 2011. However, mobile phones must be set to silent, and you must not make recordings or take photographs in court. When live tweeting, it is important that you do not reveal any confidential information which may breach reporting restrictions. Make sure you do not tweet:
During the Coronavirus pandemic, remote hearings have been conducted using a new Cloud Video Platform. This system is now in place in all open magistrates’ and Crown Courts, except where existing equipment needs to be replaced. Reporters can follow court cases remotely, which means that cases at different courts can be followed on the same day, more easily than by attending in person. The same guidance above applies to these remote hearings.
Find out more
IPSO has lots of guidance for journalists around use of social media which you can find here. Further information on court reporting for the public is available here, and new guidance for journalists will be available later this year.