Eight points

For the first-year law test, you are advised to memorise the facts set out in burgundy – but not word-for-word. 

For the first-year law test, you need not learn (or even read) text in pale grey

When criminal court cases start off in the magistrates’ court, reporters may be severely restricted in what they can report. This is to prevent prejudice to a future trial in front of a jury at a higher court.

These initial hearings take place to decide where a case should be dealt with (at the magistrates’ court, or at the Crown court, say), and whether the defendant should be remanded in custody (that is, while they wait for their trial, should they be locked up,  or allowed to go free “on bail”, or some other arrangement such as staying in a hostel?).

The case is then EITHER dealt with immediately (if it is a less serious “summary” case) or “adjourned” while legal preparations continue.

A defendant may have been arrested and charged before the police have even completed their investigations. At this time, full reporting is not allowed: the “facts” outlined in court may be challenged at the eventual trial.

Section 52A of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 sets out EIGHT POINTS that reporters can safely include in their reports of these early hearings. They are:

  • The name of the court and the name(s) of the magistrates;
  • The name, age, home address and occupation of the accused;
  • In cases involving “serious or complex” fraud, any “relevant” business information;
  • The offence or offences, or a summary of them;
  • The names of barristers and solicitors involved in the hearing;
  • If the case is adjourned, the name of the court it is adjourned to, and the date it will next come to court;
  • The arrangements for bail;
  • Whether legal aid was granted.

The exact wording of the charges can be useful, because they may contain information that can be reported, such as where and when a crime was alleged to have taken place, or the name of a victim. You do not have to publish the exact wording, especially if it is legalistic language (“legalese”): it is fine to put it into plain English. 

If the defence applies for bail and it is refused, reporters MUST NOT report the reasons it is refused. This is because doing so might – for instance – prejudice the future trial, by suggesting the defendant has a criminal character or criminal connections, and is therefore likely to be guilty.

The defendant’s past offences must NOT be reported until a trial is over, unless a court order has been made to allow this. Again, doing this might suggest they are likely to be guilty.

The eight points are things that can definitely be reported safely. But in practice, media outlets can often report other details, such as what the defendant was wearing, or the fact that he “spoke only to confirm his name”. They might also give information that could not possibly be contested in a trial: for instance, that a celebrity defendant is famous for a particular acting role.

Note, it is not the case that cases heard in the magistrates’ court cannot be reported in full – though some students and even professionals think this is true. In fact, the principle of open justice means journalists must be be free to report them. This applies to full trials and other cases dealt with entirely by the magistrates. All the facts can be reported. It is only the preliminary hearings that are restricted under the Crime and Disorder Act.

Cases sent to the Crown court for sentencing

Magistrates can only send people to prison for up to six months. If they hear a case but decide a longer prison term may be appropriate, they can send it to the Crown court for sentencing. If this happens, the hearing has already begun and proceedings can be fully reported. It is not the same as a preliminary hearing, which cannot be reported in full.

Sometimes it may not be fully clear whether a reporter is observing a preliminary hearing, or the actual hearing. In this situation, it is wise to check with the legal adviser in court.

 

 

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