The justice secretary, Jack Straw, has announced a U-turn on a controversial scheme to charge journalists to see the court lists which are the staple of crime reporting.
The court registers, which contain the outcome of criminal cases and details of upcoming magistrates court cases, will now be offered to the media free of charge. The change takes effect immediately.
Announcing the changes this afternoon, Straw said: “Media will now be better able to report accurately and factually, as they strive to do, on proceedings in magistrates’ courts.
‘This move will help increase confidence in the criminal justice system and deter offending. It also supports compliance with obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights to ensure that trials are held in public.”
The move has been welcomed by the Society of Editors.
Executive director Bob Satchwell said: “At last someone has grasped the nettle and made a sensible decision which will help not only the media but will help maintain public confidence in the legal system’
Access to the court lists has been subject to a charge since 1989. The fees are statutory charges designed to help courts recover the costs of work carried out by administrative staff.
Today’s climbdown follows a fierce campaign by journalists, after recent changes to the fees regime prompted some newspapers to complain that they could no longer afford to adequately cover all the courts on their patch.
Photocopying fees of 50p a page were implemented around the country in March for the daily lists of court case outcomes.
The Bradford Telegraph & Argus said at the time that it had been forced to drop some of its court coverage because of the estimated £40,000-a-year cost of obtaining all the lists from the 12 magistrates courts in the area.
The Court Service has said that, in the long term, courts will be expected to publish their registers electronically, which will cost less.