An usher and a clerk tried to ban a reporter from entering a crown court on the grounds that the judge had imposed a reporting restriction which meant that she was not allowed to attend the hearing.
The two official sought to keep Jeanette Oldham out of a hearing at Worcester Crown Court on Tuesday January 22, the second day of a case involving cancer surgeon Sudip Sarkar.
Trial judge Robert Juckes QC had imposed an order under section 4 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 postponing reporting of the case until it was finished.
Both officials appeared to believe that an order postponing reporting meant that journalists were barred from attending the trial, even though it was being held in public, in open court.
It was only after a clerk checked with Judge Juckes that Oldham, investigations editor at the Birmingham Mail, a Trinity Mirror newspaper, was allowed in to the hearing.
“I had to wait a good quarter of an hour before the clerk found me and said that the judge had no problem with my sitting in and making notes of the proceedings,” Oldham said.
“So the judge understood. But if I hadn’t pointed out my ‘rights’ and the judge been made aware, then I wouldn’t have gained entry.
“I’ve followed the case as much as possible since and seen a couple of reporters read the order on the court door and walk away.”
It is understood that the court clerk – clerks in Crown Courts are administrative workers who do not have legal qualifications – had not meant to ban Oldham from the courtroom, but actually meant to seek clarification from the judge in response to her questions about the reporting restriction.
It was after Judge Juckes confirmed the nature of the order that the Clerk clarified that Oldham could attend and make notes but must not report anything, a court source said.
Sarkar, 47, denies one charge of making a gain through fraud by false representation.
He is alleged to have lied about his ability to conduct keyhole surgery when he applied for an £84,000-a-year post as consultant general surgeon at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and the Alexandra Hospital, in Redditch.
The case came to light just a few days after the first meeting of a new working group of a team of officials from HM Courts and Tribunals Service and media representatives intended to promote press coverage of courts, and build strong relationships between the press and their local courts.
An HMCTS spokesperson said: “This month we launched a working group with representatives from HMCTS and across the media, dedicated to promoting reporting in courts and advising HMCTS how the way we work can facilitate this.
“We recognise the vital part the media play in ensuring justice is seen to be done, and are committed to open justice, and access and transparency across our courts.”