When You can also commit a contempt of

When
reporting as a journalist you might have to report on a story which involves a
court of law. Reporting from a court of law comes with restrictions which if
you don’t adhere to could lead to you breaking the law. If you break the law
while reporting a case which is taking place in court you can be potentially
fined with the amount depending on the seriousness of the law you break or
possibly a custodial sentence. In this essay I will look at the major
restrictions placed on journalists when reporting from a court of law in the UK
and why these have been put in place. The first law I will explain is the
Contempt of court law.

 

Contempt of
court law protects the integrity of the legal process from outside influence. There
are various types of possible reporting restrictions, some of which apply
automatically while others are at the discretion of the court (BBC Academy,
2018). Contempt of court is the major law put in place to stop journalists
affecting a case taking place in a court of law. This law has been put in place
to stop journalists affecting a jury during the case by what they publish in
their form of journalism whether it be print or media. Another example of
Contempt of court described by (BBC Academy, 2018) You can also commit a
contempt of court by for example, interviewing a witness before a trial or even
putting pressure on them to provide an interview after trial. It’s important not
to break a contempt of court law as you can be fined for the crime you commit an
example of this comes from (Rawlinson, 2016) “The published of GQ magazine has
been fined £10,000 after being found in contempt of court over an article that
seriously risked prejudicing the phone hacking trial of Rebekah Brooks and Andy
Coulson.” This was a case when a chief executive for a newspaper was being
investigated for breaking the law which went to court. During the trial the GQ
published wrote remarks about Rebekah Brooks the chief executive in question in
an article which was published. The judge of the case thought that these
remarks would prejudice the court case and decided to fine GQ magazine for the
publication.

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The
contempt of court act can come into place in court when the proceedings of the
court case are “active” as described by (Contempt of Court Act 1981 Explained,
Inbrief.co.uk) CCA 1981
only applies where:

a publication carries a
substantial risk of seriously prejudicing justice in the proceedings; and
proceedings are active.

Criminal proceedings are generally
active from the point of arrest without a warrant, issue of a warrant for
arrest or of a summons, service of an indictment, or oral charge, whichever
happens first. Proceedings cease to be active upon:

acquittal or sentence;
any verdict which puts
an end to the proceedings being reached;
a discontinuation of the
proceedings. (Contempt of Court Act 1981 Explained, Inbrief.co.uk)

 

 

There are laws which are put in place early on in
cases which take place in magistrates and court cases which can only allow
journalists to report certain aspects of the case which is taking place in
court. In most cases, the court can lift the restrictions placed on the
journalist which report the case however this is at the discretion of the
court. There are many rules which automatically stop journalists reporting
certain aspects of the case in early hearings, this applies for both crown
court and magistrates court.

In the magistrates’ court, rules apply and limit what
can be reported about preliminary hearing in indictable only and either way cases,
and also to pre-trial hearings in cases regarding summary offences. Issues such
as bail and transfer to the crown court are dealt with at these types of
hearings (BBC Academy, 2018). In crown court you have to be careful what you
report as in crown court pre-trial and preparatory hearings take place, you
need to be careful on what you report on during these hearings as they are done
when the jury are not present and is used for the judge to decide what evidence
he presents to the jury. If you report what is said during these hearings, then
you could potentially influence the jury and commit contempt of court. However,
during pre-trial and preparatory hearings journalists are allowed to report on:

·     
Name of which the court in which the case is
taking place in.

·     
The judges overseeing the case.

·     
The charges which have been brought forward.

·     
The lawyers who are involved in the case.

·     
The names, addresses, ages and occupations of
defendants and witnesses.

 

All these restrictions put in place during cases in
magistrates’ and crown courts are used to limit the publication by journalists
of any evidence or information which could influence a jury by information
outside of the court. An example of a news outlet potentially committing
contempt of court during a pre-trial or preparatory hearing and possibly in the
middle of the trial is if the news outlet were to publish an article talking
about how the accused had been convicted previously for the same offense of which
they are being trialled for. This information is usually withheld from the jury
as stated previously, and if this article was read by a member of the jury it
could influence them.

 

In some cases, in court children are the ones who have
committed the crime or have been a victim of the crime. A child is anyone
considered under the age of 18 and these cases are usually dealt with in youth
courts. When reporting a case involving children you have to be careful on how
you report the case as they have to be treated different to how an adult would
be trialled.

There are many restrictions on reporting cases
involving children as described in (Reporting Legal Proceedings, Channel 4) Reports of proceedings in the Youth
Court must not contain the name, address, or school or any particulars likely
to lead to the identification of anyone under 18 involved in the proceedings as
defendant or witness or contain a photograph showing any such juvenile. Adults
involved in Youth Court proceedings can be identified as long as, in doing so,
this does not identify any juvenile involved in the proceedings. These rules do
not apply where a juvenile has been committed to the Crown Court. Note that a
Youth Court may lift these automatic restrictions in certain circumstances but
the juvenile cannot waive the protection even if he or she actively wants to be
identified. Once a juvenile who has been involved in Youth Court proceedings
reaches 18, the reporting restrictions no longer apply.

Journalists
reporting from a court where sexual offences are being trialed need to take
care when reporting. Victims of sexual offences are given anonymity for life,
this means any reporting which might identify a victim of a sexual offence
could lead to the journalist being punished. The law gives automatic anonymity
to the victim of sexual offences from when the complaint is made by them or by
someone else that they have been a victim of a sex crime. It applies whether or
not:

·     
The
allegation is subsequently withdrawn.

·     
The
police have been informed of it.

·     
There
is a prosecution.

·     
There
is a conviction.

When reporting a sexual offences case,
journalists will always do their best to remove identifying statements from
court reports. These tend to be features specific to the victim, such as age,
location or certain dates. Identifying the defendant is in the public interest,
particularly when the crime is serious and local. But identifying the defendant
can potentially identify the victim. It is a difficult balance, made on a case
by case basis (Vale, 2015)

 

To conclude, contempt
of court law is the main law used to restrict journalists from reporting
certain information from court cases which could damage the court. There are
many restrictions which fall underneath the contempt of court law. When adults
are being trialed you can publish their name, address, charge, where their
trial is taking place, the judge and the lawyer unless they are a victim of a
sexual offence charge. On the other hand, for children you cannot produce
information like their names, address etc. as the children’s information is
protected by restrictions sanctioned by the court. It’s also crucial to not
publish information which could prejudice the jury as this will lead to
contempt of court. It’s important not to commit contempt of court as a
journalist as it’s important not to affect a trial you’re reporting on by
putting it under disarray by committing contempt of court. As you want the
trial to be fair and also not allow yourself to gain a bad reputation by
breaking the law.