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16 January 2020

Government Pledges To Continue To Promote Open Justice  

The Government has committed to continuing to promote open justice by opening up the courts and working with press freedom organisations such as the News Media Association to facilitate access for journalists.   

Speaking in the House of Commons this week, Ministry of Justice Parliamentary Under-Secretary Chris Philp MP said the department is “currently very active” in considering ways to make sure court decisions and proceedings are seen by the public.  

In an announcement this morning, the Ministry of Justice announced that television cameras will be allowed to broadcast from Crown Courts in England and Wales for the first time,

Laid by the Government today, The Crown Court (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020  will allow cameras to broadcast the sentencing remarks of High Court and Senior Circuit judges in some of the most high-profile crown courts across the country, including the Old Bailey.

The NMA has always stressed that this extension to crown court sentencing remarks will be of great relevance and significance to local and regional press reporting, and their readers’ understanding of the work of their crown courts.  

The NMA said: "A local newspaper may have followed the case from initial report of the crime investigation to fair and accurate reports of the criminal proceedings right through to sentencing. It is vital that HMCTS ensure that such sentencing remarks can be included in and viewed as an integral part of newspapers’ online reports of the proceedings, where the sentencing remarks would be placed in proper context."

On Tuesday, former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale asked the Government whether it shared his view of “how important it is that court proceedings are properly reported by trained journalists so that justice can be seen to be done? Will he continue to work with the Society of Editors, the News Media Association and others to see what further measures can be taken to achieve that?”

Mr Philp responded: “I strongly concur and can certainly give my right hon. Friend the commitment he asks for. Certainly from the perspective of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, staff are given training to facilitate access by journalists, and the Ministry is currently giving very active and relatively imminent consideration to ways of making sure that court decisions and proceedings are brought more directly to the public.

“When my right hon. Friend was Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, he was instrumental in making sure, at the BBC’s charter renewal, that the local democracy reporting scheme provided £8 million a year to get local reporters into the courts. I congratulate him on that step and hope that there is more we can do along those lines in future.”

The NMA has campaigned on the promotion of  open justice for many years including changes to legislation and court procedure rules, working with successive Lord Chief Justices on joint NMA/Judicial College court reporting guidance for use by journalists, judiciary and court staff alike, joint protocols with the MoJ, HMCTS and CPS on release of court lists, court registers and prosecution material once viewed by the jury for reporting purposes, and with the HM Courts and Tribunal Service on reforms to the justice system, and on guidance for courts and tribunal staff to support and promote access to courts.