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03 November 2016

New Guidance for Coroners Stresses Principle of Open Justice

New guidance from the Chief Coroner aimed at helping coroners in all aspects of their work which concerns the media stresses that coroners must firstly be guided by the principle of open justice.  

The publication of Coroners and the media comes following a series of meetings between the News Media Association and the Chief Coroner during his term of office to discuss the reporting of inquests, promotion of open justice and address problems in coverage of coroners’ courts.

The NMA encouraged the production of the guidance, which was published on the day that His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC retired as Chief Coroner, and provided input. Following his retirement, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft QC is now Chief Coroner.

The guidance is intended to be used by both coroners and reporters. It explains that this, "guidance is to help coroners in all aspects of their work which concerns the media. It is intended to assist coroners on the law and procedures to be followed and with a view to providing greater consistency of approach across England and Wales. It is also hoped that the Guidance will provide journalists with a clear understanding of the relevant law and procedure fortheir role in reporting cases in coroners’ courts."

The guidance is predicated upon open justice, providing hepful guidance on access to proceedings, documentation and challenge. It says: "Fair and accurate reporting of proceedings is encouraged Coroners will be guided in the first instance by the important principle of open justice. This is best explained in the well known Court of Appeal case of Guardian News and Media Ltd which applies to all courts including coroners’ courts.

"It is the principle behind public courts, open hearings, recording hearings, public notification of inquests in advance, and provision to the media where appropriate of access to documents."

Among other things, the guidance assists day to day reporting. It lists the details that coroners must publish in advance of a hearing. It also makes clear that live text-based communications by journalists or legal commentators for the sole purpose of fair and accurate reporting are permitted at all hearings and says that media requests for documents should be granted “unless there is a compelling reason not to.”