OPINION: Why it is important to print names of people who appear at court
Every week we publish the names of people who have recently appeared at court.
The listings include details such as name, age, address, charge, plea and the result.
These appear in print and online.
You will also have seen some court cases printed in more detail, outlining prosecution and defence and comments from a judge.
What you may not know is that journalists who attend court to report on a case are protected by a law known as absolute privilege.
This means that a journalist can report anything what is said in open court as long as it accurately reflects what is heard.
For a report of a court case to be protected by absolute privilege it must be fair, accurate and published contemporaneous.
This basically means that both sides of a case must be reported, it must be correct and published as soon as practicable.
If a report ticks all of the above, then a journalist/media organisation can not be sued for defamation.
Understandably, it is not a pleasant experience for someone to see their name among the court listings or as part of a full court report.
It does cause upset and we do receive calls and messages from people asking if we can remove their name from the listings or a court story from our website.
The only time we would ever do this if we have made a mistake such as printing someone’s name who has not appeared at court or if we have got a charge wrong.
Unfortunately, saying it is causing embarrassment or upset is not a valid reason for us to remove it.
There are times when there is a press direction in place, meaning certain details should not be reported.
For example, victims of sexual offences have lifelong anonymity, which means that no details should be published that would identify a victim.
This includes name, address, work place, school, college or picture.
We always abide by such orders.
People are often mistaken for believing that we need permission to print their name. We do not.
If this was the case then it would be very hard for justice to be seen to be done and you would see very few court cases published by the media.
Judges often welcome the presence of a journalist sitting on a press bench in court because they know we can be trusted to accurately report what is said.
I was at a court hearing recently in which I was thanked by a judge for attending and he said that although it is tough for the media to cover court due to a lack of resources, it is vital for open justice.
It’s important that members of the public can be reassured that those who commit crimes are punished.
After all, in every case, there is a victim.
We regularly receive calls from victims who want to let us know about an upcoming court case.
In fact, some people get upset if we do not report on a certain case because they feel a particular person should be ‘named and shamed’.
We can’t get to every court case but we do our best and we are one of very few local newspapers who still has a dedicated court reporter.
I hope the above has given you a little insight into how the media works when it comes to court reporting and why it is important we publish the names of people who commit crimes.
Let me know what you think by emailing: [email protected]