Accredited members of the media should have advance access to courts lists and registers, course bosses have decreed.
In updated guidance published today, HM Courts & Tribunals Service said media organisations and journalists who request such information should be issued with it proactively, routinely and free of charge.
At a minimum, court lists in criminal courts should contain defendants’ name, age, address and the alleged offence: providing such information to the media will not breach data protection legislation.
The advice to court staff comes after criticism from journalists in recent months denied access to documents, names of magistrates and – in the case of a Gazette reporter last month – the court building itself.
HMCTS now hopes its guidance will ensure easier access to court papers as well as equip staff with the right answers when journalists seek to report on cases.
Much of the revised document reiterates the existing protocol, such as journalist being able to use electronic devices in court hearings and post live updates through blogs or social media. It also makes clear that the media can attend and report on youth court cases and hearings, and that court staff should facilitate this on request.
Where hearings in courts and tribunals receive a high level of media interest, officials should plan ahead to consider whether to allocate press seat tickets or arrange a media annexe in the public seating areas.
Staff in magistrates’ courts, who tend to have less time to prepare and organise special arrangements, should have contingency plans in place for when a case attracts a lot of attention, the guidance states.