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07 April 2022

Peers Raise Concerns Over Media Access To Courts

Concerns around plans to move some proceedings out of open court and instead deal with them administratively posing a threat to the principle of open justice have been raised in the House of Lords.

In a debate on the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (pictured) said there was a concern that, if the Bill becomes law, it will mean “an end to many first appearances in the criminal courts” with the “consequential significant reduction in information provided to the media.”  

The News Media Association  has joined with editors and publishers across the industry to voice concerns about the proposals in a letter to HM Courts and Tribunal Service coordinated by Evening Standard courts correspondent Tristan Kirk.  

Journalists would become heavily reliant on court results registers and phone calls or emails to magistrates court officials to find out information which would otherwise have been heard in open court, editors and publishers said.

Speaking in the debate, Lord Ponsonby said: “Concerns have been raised that the Bill could damage the principle of open justice and access to the courts’ information. As the Minister knows, this was raised with me only yesterday by the Guardian Media Group; I received a briefing on this matter, which I forwarded to him.

“I will not go through all the points that are raised in the briefing, but there is a concern that, if the Bill becomes law, it will mean an end to many first appearances in the criminal courts, with the consequential significant reduction in information provided to the media. Various examples are given in the briefing.

“Although the Minister pointed out in Committee that HMCTS has guidance on this matter, the reality is that there is nothing in the Bill that requires the steps in the guidance to be taken. The purpose of these amendments is to encourage the Minister to give a fuller explanation of the way the media will get access to the courts.”