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New guidance on dealing with press for court staff made public for first time to enhance 'open justice'

New guidance on dealing with the media has been issued to staff at courts and tribunals across England and Wales.

The new guidance, intended to support and promote access to courts for journalists, was drawn up after HM Courts and Tribunals Service established a working party with media representatives following a series of problems about access to courts and information.

It makes clear that journalists are entitled to certain classes of information, are generally entitled to report on cases using text messages or other electronic communications, and should have proper seating within courts – all issues which have caused problems in the past.

It also encourages staff to assist journalists.

The guidance has been issued as part of a wider effort to build stronger working relationships between courts and the press and maintain the principle of open justice as court services become increasingly digitised.

The document is split into an overall summary and more detailed advice covering different jurisdictions, such as criminal or family courts, so that staff can find exactly what they are looking for easily and quickly.

Its publication today is the first time it has been made public and it will be regularly reviewed and updated, according to HMCTS.

HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said: “Open justice is a fundamental part of our court system and impartial media reporting of the work of our courts and tribunals is an important way of maintaining public confidence.

“This reshaped guidance, which we are publishing for the first time, is designed to give our staff easily accessible information so they can support all those reporting on proceedings in courts across the country. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who helped put it together.

“We will continue to work closely with stakeholders to promote good working relationships between HMCTS and regional media.

“Their insight and expertise will ensure our ongoing programme of reform not only maintains but, wherever possible, enhances open justice.”

Society of Editors director Ian Murray said: “This is an important initiative and the society is delighted to have been able to assist in helping to reinforce these guidelines to court staff and journalists.

“If the public is to have faith in the justice system it must see it in action and that means ensuring journalists have access to courts and the necessary information to do their jobs. At the same time, court staff need to have simple guidelines as to what is permissible.

“There is more to do but the work carried out so far is extremely important.”

Santha Rasaiah, legal, policy and regulatory affairs director at the News Media Association, which represents national, regional and local newspapers across the UK, said: “Open justice is vital to the rule of law and is achieved, in practice, by press reporting of courts and tribunals to the wider public.

“That depends not just on the legal framework, but the day to day practicalities of journalistic access and reporting.

“The NMA therefore warmly welcomed both the opportunity to work with HMCTS on this new guidance and its wider publication.

“A ready reference, providing common guidance, will assist court, press and public alike. We hope that it will promote further constructive co-operation, court reporting and public understanding of the work of our justice system.”

HMCTS said the existing working group was now being reshaped to consider how the reform programme could support and enhance media access while playing a pivotal role in maintaining and developing open justice.

This includes a roundtable discussion to be chaired by Courts Minister Lucy Frazer next month, which will bring together a range of representatives from newspapers, broadcasters and online media platforms to discuss ways of enhancing media access to courts.

View the guidance in full.

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