Courts and tribunals service seeks to arrest decline in relationship with media

A working group led by Ed Owen, comms director at HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), has been set up to look at ways of improving the relationship between the media and the judicial system.

HMCTS wants to improve the relationship with the media and increase reporting of court cases (pic credit: Gavin Rodgers / Alamy Stock Photo)
HMCTS wants to improve the relationship with the media and increase reporting of court cases (pic credit: Gavin Rodgers / Alamy Stock Photo)
The move is a bid to increase the level of press access to courts and reverse the decline in court reporting as part of a push for open justice.

Launching the group at an event held by the Society of Editors in London last week, Owen cited research by Winchester University in which more than half of all local newspaper editors admitted court cases were not being covered adequately by their own papers. 

They reported a 40 per cent decrease in the number of court stories on a single day in 2016 compared with the same date four years ago, he said.

Owen warned that the decline in court reporting meant many HMCTS staff were not used to dealing with journalists. 

He argued that HMCTS and media organisations had a shared interest in promoting greater access to the courts, and that reforms to the justice system – such as virtual courts and greater use of technology – should promote greater media reporting of court cases.

The new group includes Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors; Santha Rasaiah, legal, policy and regulatory affairs director for News Media UK; John Battle, head of compliance, ITN; Tristan Kirk, courts correspondent, London Evening Standard, and Mike Dodd, legal editor, Press Association. 

Other members include Kate Briden, director of the Royal Courts of Justice group, HMCTS; Laura King, operations, HMCTS, and Alice Booth, senior press officer, Ministry of Justice.

It held its first meeting last week and is currently reviewing the existing guidance to HMCTS on working with the media to see how this can be improved. 

The group will make recommendations to HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Wood in March and meet on a quarterly basis thereafter. 

In future months it will look at how to ensure the reform and modernisation of courts and tribunals results in greater transparency and openness.

The move to set up a working group bringing together comms and media professionals has been welcomed by Murray, who said: "Nothing can be more important for local communities than to have faith that justice is being delivered fairly on their behalf and that can only be done by reporting court proceedings." 

Another member of the new working group, Rasaiah, commented: "Court reporting is essential to open justice."

Acland-Hood said: "The reporting of court proceedings has long been an important part of maintaining public confidence in our justice system. So its decline in recent years represents a real concern."

She added: "I want to ensure that HMCTS is doing all we can to promote media coverage of court hearings as part of our commitment to openness and transparency, and I am pleased that media organisations have joined us to consider this issue together. I look forward to receiving its recommendations."

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