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Huddersfield 15/16 JPP Law 2

Crime and courts
by

Richard Jones

on 21 October 2015

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Transcript of Huddersfield 15/16 JPP Law 2

Media law:
Crime and courts

Today's lecture
Contact me
Email: r.l.jones@hud.ac.uk
Twitter: @rlwjones
Blog: www.richardjonesjournalist.com
Office: JM3/08
Office hours: Tuesday 1:15-2:15
Wednesday 12:15-1:15
Remember: please buy or borrow a copy of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists. It's, well, pretty essential.
Contempt of Court
Naming of suspects
Juveniles and sex cases
Reporting the courts
Contempt of Court
Naming of suspects
Reporting the courts
The statue of Lady Justice stands on top of the Old Bailey in central London. The scales in her left hand symbolise the weighing up of evidence and the right to a fair trial.
When journalists report on a case, to protect that right to a fair trial and to prevent us publishing anything that might affect that, we have the Contempt of Court Act.
Publishing:
this isn't just when something has been published in written form online (including social media), or in a newspaper or magazine. It also covers when something is broadcast on TV or radio.
Contempt of court happens when information that's been published causes
substantial risk of serious prejudice
in a case.
Common law contempt
is not used much nowadays. It involves intentionally publishing material that causes
substantial risk of serious prejudice
, or behaving in a way that interferes with court proceedings.
Strict liability contempt
is the main part of the law, and it's governed by the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
It involves publishing material that causes
substantial risk of serious prejudice
to active proceedings. The court decides whether there's a risk, and it doesn't matter whether the publication was intentional or not.
One way in which the media can create that risk, is by publishing material which suggests a suspect or defendant is of bad character.
Joanna Yeates went missing in Bristol in December 2010. The story dominated the national headlines for several days that Christmas. Her body was found on Christmas Day.
Let's look at an example.
Police initially suspected her landlord, Chris Jefferies. He was arrested and questioned. During that time, newspapers ran articles questioning his character.
What's wrong with them?
He was released without charge, and another man was later convicted of Joanna's murder.
The Daily Mirror and The Sun were fined £50,000 and £18,000 for publishing the articles, after the Attorney General took action against them for Contempt of Court.
In 2009, Ryan Ward went on trial in Sheffield for allegedly beating a man to death with a brick after he had intervened to stop Ward attacking a woman.
The Sun and Mail websites published stories along with a picture of Ward taken from social media. In the picture, Ward was holding a gun.
What's wrong with that?
In both cases, the newspapers should have cropped the picture. The Mail's picture desk apparently forgot despite being warned by the journalist, The Sun did crop it properly for the newspaper but on the online article the gun was still visible.
So, in both cases the picture with the gun was published by mistake.
Does that matter?
Again, the Attorney General took action, and both papers were fined £15,000.
In 2010, a juror in a major drugs trial in Manchester contacted one of the defendants on Facebook, while the trial was still going on (the defendant had already been acquitted).
What's wrong with this?
The judge decided the trial could not continue. It was the third time the case had collapsed for various reasons, at a cost of £6m. The juror got eight months in jail.
Journalists and the police often come into contact with each other. Police use the media to appeal for help, journalists talk to the police to find out information about cases.
When an arrest is made, proceedings become 'active'. This affects what can be reported.
After the police have investigated a crime, prosecutors from the Crown Prosecution Service decide whether any suspects should be charged.
Generally, the police won't announce the name of someone who has been
arrested
. So you see things like "a 27-year-old man from Huddersfield is being questioned" in news reports. It would be defamatory for us to publish the name (more on
defamation
next week).
This is because most people who are arrested are never charged, because of a lack of evidence.
But, it's safe for journalists to report the name of someone who has been arrested, if it's confirmed by the police or some other official source (this offers a defence of
'qualified privilege'
- more on this next week).
Police might do this if a journalist has found the name from their own inquiries and asks police to confirm it. Or, the police may release it themselves, perhaps to encourage other possible victims to come forward.
Let's look at some examples.
Veteran BBC presenter and football commentator Stuart Hall was arrested in 2012 over alleged historic sex offences. Publicity surrounding his arrest led more victims to contact police. He later pleaded guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault.
Entertainer Rolf Harris was first
questioned
(but not
arrested
) by police over historic sex abuse allegations in November 2012. The mainstream media didn't publish his name but it circulated widely online.
Harris was
arrested
in March 2013 then re-arrested in April. Only then did the mainstream media publish his name. Harris' name was
not officially confirmed
by the police or by Harris himself, so newspaper articles were written very carefully.
There are two main reasons why the media will sometimes name an
arrested
suspect without any official confirmation.
1:
They don't think the person will sue.
2:
The police have hinted that the person is likely to be charged.
Juveniles and sex cases
The age of criminal responsibility in England is 10. People aged between 10 and 17 and accused of a crime will usually be tried in a youth court.
Generally, defendants and witnesses under 18 can't be named in media reports, under Section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933: a
Section 49 Order
. This is to avoid stigmatising those young people.
It's different in an adult court. Defendants and witnesses under 18 can be named, unless a judge decides otherwise. This is a
Section 39 Order.
Journalists must be careful of
jigsaw identification
. It's not enough to simply leave out the name. You must also avoid mentioning any details which might give away the person's identity, such as their parents' names or their school.
In rare cases, courts may decide that a juvenile criminal should never be identified.
Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were 10 when they murdered toddler James Bulger, were given new identities when they were released from prison. A court order (an
'injunction'
) prevents the media reporting those new identities.
In 2013, pictures supposedly of Venables circulated widely on social media. The Attorney General began an investigation and threatened action against tweeters for possible contempt.
Restrictions also apply in sex cases. Alleged victims of sex crimes have an automatic right to remain anonymous under the
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992
. They do have the option to give up that right if they want.
After footballer Ched Evans was convicted of rape in 2012, nine people were fined after admitting naming his victim on Twitter and Facebook.
If you've followed any of the recent high-profile trials involving sex allegations, you may have noticed victims are almost never named.
A few more general points about reporting court cases before we finish today.
When reporting on the courts, journalists must produce a "fair and accurate report of legal proceedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith". This is a
defence
against Contempt of Court.
Contemporaneously
is a word you hear a lot. It means that a report should be published as soon as practical, eg. that evening's TV news or the next day's paper.
Fair and accurate
doesn't mean it has to be a word perfect record of what happened in court. But the story has to be a fair reflection.
Most crimes are dealt with by the
magistrates' court
. Defendants in more serious cases will usually make at least one magistrates' court appearance before their trial. There's not much the media can report of these hearings because of
pre-trial reporting restrictions
.
These are known as
Section 8C
restrictions, named after that bit of the
Magistrates' Court Act 1980
. They exist to avoid prejudicing any future crown court trial, which is sometimes where these cases end up. It's important to know about these restrictions, because young local journalists often cover these kinds of hearings.
There are seven things you can report from these pre-trial hearings at magistrates courts. They are:
1.
Name of the court and the magistrates
2.
Names, ages, addresses and jobs of the defendants and witnesses
3.
The charges
4.
Names of solicitors and barristers
5.
Date and location of the next court hearing
6.
Bail arrangements
7.
Legal aid
Although not technically allowed under the law, journalists will also usually report that a person has entered a plea of 'not guilty'.
Cameras aren't allowed in almost all English courts. But journalists can now use phones or laptops to tweet from inside court.
Cameras are allowed in Scottish courts, and some documentaries have been made. Media companies are campaigning to have cameras in more courts in England.
Cliff Richard's home was searched in August 2014 by police investigating a historic allegation of sexual assault.
Richard was abroad and hadn't been
questioned
, let alone
arrested
, by police. But the BBC was there to break the exclusive story.
It turned out a BBC reporter had heard about the investigation into Richard, and asked South Yorkshire Police which gave confirmation. They also agreed to let the BBC know in advance when the search would happen.
The police have been widely criticised for doing this deal.
Why was the BBC ok to reveal Cliff Richard's name?
The media can technically name a child suspect prior to a court appearance, although this is rare. The Sun chose to do so during the inquiry into the recent stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire in Leeds.
You will all be coming on a visit with me to Kirklees Magistrates' Court during this module. So you really need to know about these restrictions.
Next week's lecture
BS1/01 - Thursday 5:15pm
However, when another BBC broadcaster, Paul Gambaccini, was arrested in 2013 over alleged historic sex offences, he was released on bail but was never charged. He was only cleared after a year. He has been strongly critical that his name was ever made public.
Full transcript