in a court of law can pose many problems that can lead to serious consequences
for journalists including lawsuits and imprisonment. That is why journalists
must be careful to stick to the restrictions set in the court in order to avoid
putting themselves and their news outlet in jeopardy. The result of a bad
reporting or even a simple mistake can result in the defendant being let off
the case, can create libel and contempt of court and can even sway the jury
into thinking a certain way and prejudicing the case.


There are
clear restrictions when court reporting that are put into place to protect
either the accused, the final ruling and any victims or witnesses. There are
different types of court cases that a journalist can report on, the type of
case can make the restrictions tighter or more lenient. For example, reporting
on a case where the defendant or victim is a child means that the reporter is
subject to certain rules. They cannot reveal the youth’s name, address, their
school, their picture or anyone likely to identify the child. It is the job of
the court to decide if the identity of the youth can be revealed. (BBC
Academy) There are some ways
in which the restriction can be lifted for example if the court is looking for
a charged offender that has gone missing but only if it is a violent or sexual
assault case.(section 47 of the Children and young person’s act 1993) This
restriction is in place for obvious reasons, in that the children need to be
protected from the media and the wider public especially the victims. However,
the defendant if charged can also need protection from the public depending on
the case, for example when the Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, murderers of
James Bulger, were released from prison in 2011 they were given new identities
and when Jon Venables was taken to court again for possessing indecent images the
Judge demanded that it be kept as a private case because people had sworn to
kill them. (Spillet, R. 2018).


type of case that can change the restrictions applies to sexual assault cases.
The victim is granted anonymity for life, starting from the time of the
allegation, and to publish the identity of any victim would be in breach of the
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act (1992). However, the defendant can apply for
the identity to be released in order to appeal to witnesses that may make the
case more balanced. If a complainant is 16 or older they can apply to have the
ban lifted and therefore can be identified. (Judicial College 2015) The consequences of breaching
this for a journalist can be career threatening and they can even be presented
with a fine or a lawsuit to their company, the sexual Offences (amendment) act
states that “If any matter is published or included in a relevant programme in
contravention of section 1, the following persons shall be guilty of an offence
and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the
standard scale” (Legislation.Gov 2018 Sexual Offences act). The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act
is in place due to the extremely sensitive nature of the crime committed and
the victims can feel that the proceedings are extremely stressful and don’t
want to have publicity after there traumatic time.  


contempt of court act (1981) has many restrictions within it and a reporter has
to be sure to stick to these or they can face court charges and fines. The
first section of the act is the strict liability rule. This section covers the
intent to create contempt of court can be treated as the journalist attempting
to interfere with justice in certain cases and whether it was intended is not
an important factor. However, this act only comes into play if the piece that
is published influences the proceedings of justice, this section is also only
applicable if the story us published during the active trial, afterwards it can
be published legally, unless of course it is a sexual assault case or in youth
court. The journalist cannot not be found guilty of contempt of court if the
report published is written fairly and accurately.(Legislation 2018 Contempt of
court act)  The reason that this is in
place is to stop journalists interfering with the proceedings and to prevent
them from publishing anything that could lead the jury and the public to think
a certain way about the defendant. A famous case where this has been committed
is the Johanna Yeates case, where journalist’s committed contempt of court and
the Sun was fined £18,000 and the Daily  Mirror were fined £50,000 after they wrote
that Christopher Jefferies, Joanna’s landlord, was guilty of her murder before any
charges were found and the Police found him innocent. The Attorney General
Dominic Grieve started a contempt action against the Newspapers because their
reports against Jefferies were “so exceptional, so memorable” that it
presented a “risk of serious prejudice” to any potential future trial
of Yeates’s killer” (Halliday, J. 2011).

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restrictions that a journalist faces for broadcast also vary slightly due to
the type of case and court etc. When recording a news broadcast for an active
case the restrictions that apply link to what has already been previously
discussed in this essay, a matter of privacy is required for child cases and
sexual assault cases. The recording of a case can only be used when authorised
by the courts, however this recording can be used only as a memoire and cannot
be broadcast or used to brief a witness. (Judicial College). It is also restricted for
journalists to take or publish any photographs in the court without the
permission of the judge. Even if granted permission to record or take a photo
there are still several restrictions on what can be filmed or pictured. A
journalist must be aware of what he/she is allowed to record, the main issue
surrounding this is identity as previously mentioned, this limits the ability
to expose the defendant and depending on certain factors could also prevent any
victims or witnesses being filmed or pictured. As well as this, photographing
jurors can get journalists into trouble and in Northern Ireland it is a formal
offence to identify jurors. As for contempt risks, it is an offence to release
interviews with witnesses describing any events and there can be no
reconstruction of evidence(McLean, R. 2013). This is done so that the wider
public are not aware of who is in the Jury as it may lead people to attempt to
make them think a certain way or threaten them therefore they need to be kept
in confidentiality.



A fairly
obvious form of restriction and guideline when court reporting is that any
published work during a case must be completely factual, accurate and fair. However,
these facts must have been gathered in the court itself and no outside
information can be included. These stories should also be devoid of any
personal opinions that may prejudice a case.



The restrictions
are put in place to protect the court and if broken they can commit libel, they
are also used by journalists as a guideline to protect themselves from being caught
for libel. Libel is “to publish in print (including pictures), writing or
broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which
will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the
target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others.” (Hill &
Hill 2005) If a journalist is
reporting on a case and they publish a story and they do not use terms such as
‘accused’ or ‘allegations’ when talking about the defendant they can be held as
libel which usually will result in a lawsuit of the place of publication.  

conclude there are several restrictions that a journalist must face when
reporting in the court of law and many severe consequences if the restrictions
are not followed and they can be as extreme as jail time or lawsuits. This
essay discusses some of these key restrcitions and shows examples how when a
journalist has failed to meet the standards expected of them in court, this
shows the importance of sticking to the laws and why the restrictions are in
place. These restrictions are in place in order to protect the people involved
in the case and to protect the outcome of the entire case, if broken the case
can be changed dramatically or the people involved can be put into danger. It
is vital that these are followed by all journalists so that correct justice can
be found for every case and anyone involved has their rights to privacy respected.


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