Court staff urged to deal with media after PA challenge

Staff at magistrates’ courts in Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are being reminded to comply with guidance on giving information to the media after the issue was raised by the Press Association.

Reporters have complained that staff at magistrates courts in all three areas often refused to answer inquiries by telephone, insisting instead that requests had to be faxed to their offices, and saying that it could take up to 24 hours to respond to an enquiry.

Court staff also frequently refused to give information such as a defendants’ address, claiming that they were prohibited from doing so by the Data Protection Act.

A spokesman for H M Courts Service said the area directors for the three counties had now been asked to revise their practices to bring them into line with guidance to staff on dealing with media inquiries.

“H M Courts Service recognises the important role that the media plays in the government’s communication with the public and in the justice system,” he said.

“Media guidance is issued to court staff dealing regularly with the press. The H M Courts Service press office also advises court staff on media inquiries they receive about particular hearings and deals directly with the media on wider questions in order to maintain and develop a constructive relationship between courts and the media.”

The guidance on dealing with the media contains clear details of which information may and may not be given out, and says that court staff should do their best to reply to inquiries as quickly as possible.

It also says that staff should not use the Data Protection Act as a “blanket excuse for withholding information”, and generally should not insist that queries should be submitted in writing.

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