Paul Cheston is the last specialist court reporter for newspapers in the UK. Court reporting may be a dying trade, but Cheston feels that this leaves gaps in the market for investigators to fill.
This year at the CIJ Summer School, he offered a practical guide to court reporting which we have summarised below…
Why you should report the courts
Cheston’s reasons for the importance of court reporting and why he enjoys the craft include:
- Courts are an undervalued source
- They can involve “fantastic drama”…
- …and emotional subjects
- It is important to have a court system
- Inquests take place in court
- It’s fun!
Problems with reporting the courts
“Journalists face a number of issues when reporting the courts,” said Cheston:
- Getting into the court can be difficult. Don’t be intimidated by the staff. “It is your right to be able to enter the court and sit in the public gallery.”
- Journalists are sometimes told what they can and can’t publish. This can be difficult when trying to put together a newsworthy story.
- Privacy can be a problem. For example, keeping identities hidden for extreme cases involving children/young people or celebrity super injunctions.
Different types of court to report on
Cheston identified the various courts available to report from:
- County Courts deal with small cases. Every town has a county court, which not many journalists report on, “but they should”. These cases are great to help get a taste of court reporting and are ideal for local news.
- High Court: there are no juries in these cases, which means no briefing at the start so the case is difficult to follow. It is advised to get access to witness statements and further documents beforehand. It is in the interest of the solicitor to provide these materials.
- Magistrates Court: Cheston described these cases as “little gems”. This is where offenders have their first appearance in court and before being passed onto Crown Court. Attending these cases is also advisory if you are a beginner to court reporting.
Visit Courtserve.net to view case listings happening in various courts. Details of the trials and defendants are provided prior to the case.
Yes, the Press/Media must be allowed all access to Her Majesty’s Public Civil Courts which belong publicly. The Press are the last and most precious resource to be able to investigate with full transparency whether words written on court stationery are actually the result of a genuine hearing, on a particular date at a particular time with the names of persons actually present, or whether the stationery has been purloined as part of a financial fraud against one person and simultaneously nationwide against The Treasury and that there never were such hearings at all. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are involved. It is not difficult to examine. Using Judges’ names without their knowledge has to be exposed, don’t you think ? The President of the Supreme Court has pofoundly said, “Without Law there is no Justice and without Justice, there is no Law. ” He also said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. And I would say that this characteristic means freedom for the Press, especially when the Freedom of Information process disappears.