Society of Editors debate the crisis in our courts

Society of Editors debates the crisis in our courts and how to solve it

An expert panel discussed how to safeguard British court reporting in the age of digital media at this week’s Society of Editors seminar, Cision’s Josh Gray reports.

This week’s seminar at the Telegraph offices, sponsored by Cision, brought a panel of experts together to discuss the challenges facing court reporting and propose solutions.

The five-man panel consisted of former lord chief justice Igor Judge, former culture secretary John Whittingdale MP, Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray, HM Courts & Tribunals Service comms director Edward Owen and Tristan Kirk, a court reporter at the London Evening Standard.

They who stand in judgement are themselves on trial

Lord Judge began proceedings with an impassioned defence of journalism’s role in the proper administration of justice.

He reminisced about the time when every Crown Court case had at least one court reporter on the benches to judge whether due process was being followed, from the competency of police services to whether or not the judge might have fallen asleep during proceedings.

For Judge, the decline of local journalism and the subsequent disappearance of court reporters from over half the UK’s criminal trials is a threat. Justice needs to be seen to be done, ideally by those who can accurately and impartially inform the public about the legality of rulings.

He also noted that without dedicated court reporters it becomes harder to spot criminal trends as they emerge.

Making crime (reporting) pay

Understanding the causes of this problem is easy: both regional and national news services have been struggling for resources in the current media and economic climate. According to Whittingdale, there’s not enough money available to cover the slow burning affairs of the Crown and Magistrates’ Courts.

Whittingdale outlined a number of potential solutions to safeguard the future of court reporting since leaving the government.

First, he has suggested expanding the BBC’s new Local News initiative vehicle to include more specialised journalists such as court reporters. (The public service spends £8 million a year funding 150 reporters to help struggling regional publications.)

Another option is to encourage Google and Facebook to invest in a local news fund by persuading them of the future benefits of healthy grassroots journalism. Whittingdale has already broached the subject with representatives from the companies.

In addition, the government is currently considering a social media levy to fix the problems caused by web monopolies.

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