Why we report on courts and inquests

Why we report on courts and inquests

THE ROTHERHAM Advertiser reports on many court cases involving offenders from our area – but why do we report on them, and why do we include the personal details of those involved?

Many of those involved in a court case do not want to see their names and personal information printed in our newspaper or online. In this article we have tried to explain why we report on court cases and why we include the details of those involved.

There are lots of rules which govern what we can and cannot print about a court case. Everyone in our team has been trained in media law and knows exactly what they are allowed to publish.

We get many requests from defendants and their families to take articles down or to stop reporting on their case. We understand why it might be upsetting to see your name or the name of your loved one in the media, but there are a number of reasons why we cannot accept your request.

It is very important that justice is seen to be done – it is a cornerstone of our democracy. If court cases were to take place behind closed doors with no information available to the public – such as in a totalitarian state - people would rightly be worried about what was happening and how those decisions were being made. People have a right to know how these decisions are made and justice must be seen to be done.

Printing your name and details about your court case acts as a deterrent to others who may be thinking of committing a crime. If you decide to commit a crime then you should expect details of your offending, along with your personal details, to be printed in full.

We will always include the name of a defendant, their age and their address – but never their house number. We include an age and address because there might be another person with the same name living in the same area, and if we were to only use a name, there might be cases of mistaken identity. People might reasonably think that people who are entirely innocent have committed a crime.

We will employ the same policy for those who are standing trial or have not yet entered a plea – again, to stop any confusion over who the defendant is.

Sometimes people will tell us that they have mental health problems, they are at increased risk because we have published their personal details, or they have children/a family and there could be repercussions for them. Unfortunately, our stance is the same and we cannot make any exceptions – if we did it for one person, we would have to do it for everyone.

We do not need the permission of anyone who has been in court in order to report on their story. As a general rule, if it has been said in open court, then we are free to print it, and if you have appeared in court, then we are free to print your name and personal details.

There are certain exceptions to this rule – for example, victims of sexual offences have lifetime anonymity from the time of the accusation. We cannot print their name or anything that might lead to their identity being revealed – and nor can anyone else, including members of the public. These restrictions remains in force regardless of whether a defendant is found guilty or not guilty. Such an anonymity order can only be lifted by a judge in the interests of justice, or if the victim chooses to speak publicly.

People under 18 also usually have anonymity in court. In the youth court this is automatic but in an adult court an order has to be made. We will try to overturn an anonymity order if we think you have a right to know the identity of a child who has committed a serious crime.

Courts can also postpone the reporting of a case under a bit of law called the Contempt of Court Act. Reporting will be postponed if a judge thinks that printing information now would be unfair to the defendant and could have the potential to prejudice a jury. Everyone has the right to a fair trial – so if, for example, a defendant is facing more than one linked trial, it might be considered unfair to print details about the first trial before he or she stands before a fresh jury in the second trial. The jurors in the second trial might have already seen negative publicity about the defendant.

INQUESTS

We often receive calls asking us not to print details of inquest hearings.

The media, along with the general public, is entitled to attend all inquest hearings which are held to establish who died and where, when and how the death happened. We are entitled to report the proceedings.

We understand that families and friends often do not want these details published, but we do so to highlight the facts and hope that someone reading the story might be in a position to prevent a further tragedy – perhaps avoiding drugs, not drink-driving, seeking help for mental health issues etc.

The report will also clear up any rumours or suspicion about the death, so is in the public interest, and it is essential the media attend inquests to ensure hearings are a matter of public record.

Relatives at an inquest will be informed of our presence and we will often offer the opportunity to comment.

However, we are not able to agree to the requests we receive not to publish a story at all for the reasons stated above, but we will always endeavour to report sensitively and accurately.