Courts service promotes media access in pursuit of open justice

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has launched new guidance, with input from the media and available publicly for the first time, to promote open justice.

New HM Courts & Tribunals Service access guidance covers print, broadcast and online media
New HM Courts & Tribunals Service access guidance covers print, broadcast and online media

The guidance has been issued to court and tribunal staff in an effort to build stronger working relationships between courts and the press and underscore the critical public role of the media in sharing the workings of the justice system.

Ed Owen, director of comms at HMCTS, told PRWeek the guidance was an important part of bolstering media access and ensuring courts staff have "greater confidence in navigating an often complex set of rules and law".

"But I recognise that the task of promoting media access to courts is about more than just guidance notes," he pointed out. "It's really important, too, that we create a culture of mutual understanding between HMCTS and the media to support the overall principle of open justice.

"The sad truth is that, today, many courts rarely see reporters at all. That's potentially bad news in terms of public confidence in the justice system, and has weakened what were, in the past, often strong local relationships between courts and local newspapers.

"We therefore have to work that much harder to help promote media access, and I am hugely grateful to those representatives of the industry who sat on our working group to support our work in this area."

The new guidance – which is available online for free download – includes a series of easy-to-read guides covering criminal courts, civil courts, family courts and tribunals, as well as an overall briefing document. 

As well as being publicly available, the main difference in the new guidance is that it has been developed with input from media representatives, and covers specific issues that are most often disputed, such as student journalists and recording or filming in court.

Among those involved in developing the guidance are journalists from the London Evening Standard, ITN, Press Association, Society of Editors and News Media Association, as well as comms representatives from the Judicial Office and Ministry of Justice.

Other activity planned with the aim of promoting open justice includes a roundtable discussion to be chaired by Courts Minister Lucy Frazer next month, which will bring together representatives from newspapers, broadcasters and online media platforms to discuss ways of enhancing court access.

Santha Rasaiah, legal, policy and regulatory affairs director of the News Media Association, 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.

"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."

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