Local newspapers like this one, like many other news brands, report daily from court.

There are many rules and laws which govern court reporting, and the journalists who cover cases have a qualification in media law so they can report safely from the court.

The newsdesk is often asked by defendants and their families to take court stories down from the website.

Sometimes they are angry to see their name in the paper or online. We can understand why they are upset – going to court is traumatic enough without appearing in your local, or sometimes a national, paper.

However, there are really important reasons why the press covers court:

1. Open court hearings, and the reporting of these hearings by the press, are fundamental to open democracy. Taxpayers have a right to know what’s going on in their area and how their money is being spent. And that justice is being done. It also ensures that proceedings are carried out fairly. 

2. It also acts as a deterrent against crime. Being in court might be scary enough, but who wants to risk the perhaps painful and humiliating experience of being named and shamed in the press?

Court proceedings of any kind are matters of public record and there is usually no reasonable expectation of privacy in media reports of them.

Uncomfortable though it may be for a defendant and anyone involved (including the victim), publicity is a natural and entirely predictable consequence of the judicial process. Open justice is a bedrock principle of the UK legal system and any restrictions on reporting will depend on the specific statutory provision.

Naturally, we care about the accuracy of reports, and if there any inaccuracies in a court report, please contact us to ensure they are corrected. You can find our contact details at the bottom of the website under Contact Us. 

Here are some of the questions the newsdesk is frequently asked:

I've been in court. Why have you printed my name, address and age?

That’s to stop any confusion. If there is someone with the same name as you living in the same town, people who know that person might assume it’s them. Printing your address stops anyone else from being defamed.

I want you to take my address out, I’ve got kids/a family and I don’t want any repercussions for them!

As a principle, we do not remove a defendant's identifying information from court reports. To do so would be set a dangerous precedent and damage the foundations of open justice. 

Many people act with surprise or outrage that their case has been reported. The bottom line is, if you commit a crime, be prepared for a story to be published. 

The information is also freely accessible from the court. Sometimes special permission may be granted for anonymity, however that needs to be addressed in court at the start of proceedings. 

But you reported it without asking for my permission...

... being blunt, we don’t have to. Courts must administer justice in public. Open justice is a cornerstone of the law and vital to democracy. When courts start doing things behind closed doors without good reason, that’s the time to worry.

It may not feel like it at the time, but our constant scrutiny of the courts and their actions work in the favour of the defendant too. It stops unfair punishments being handed out. 

When a court is sitting, the press can report on anything that happens in the proceedings.

The public can also attend court cases. 

My name was in the court round-up but I didn’t see your reporter in the court?

Magistrates' courts send out their daily court listings and outcomes for the press to print.

The publication of these listings is covered by a legal defence called qualified privilege. That means so long as the report is fair, accurate, published without malice and in the public interest, we're OK to publish. 

How come in one of your reports you’ve said a defendant or a victim ‘can’t be named for legal reasons’?

There are a few groups of people who get automatic anonymity in court.

Their name and details will still be read out in open court, but certain laws stop the press (and anyone else) from reporting them.

Victims of sexual offences have lifetime anonymity. This is automatic and means that any information which could lead to identification – name, address, place of work or school, relationship to the defendant in certain cases – can’t be reported.

Anonymity kicks in as soon as an arrest is made. And even if the defendant is found not guilty, or the case is dropped, the alleged victim still has their anonymity.

There are only two times this is lifted:

1. The victim chooses to speak publicly

2. The alleged victim is found by a court to have been lying about the allegation.

Anonymity ends upon death – so if an inquest hearing is told that the deceased was a victim of a sexual assault, that can be reported.

What if I name the victim on social media or in the comments on the story?

We may turn off commenting on active court cases. That’s to stop anyone making comments which could prejudice an ongoing trial.

But the rules above don’t just apply to the media – they apply to everyone. So if you know the name of an alleged victim of a sexual offence, and you identify them in a comment online, you could face going to court – and even prison – yourself.

Can you take a story down? 

Archiving has always been an integral part of the journalistic purpose. Erasure from the archive is incompatible with that purpose.

The archives are the collective memory of the communities served by the newspaper and a rich resource in a democratic society to aid debate and research.

The online archives must be complete and historically accurate: any manipulation of their content defeats the underlying journalistic purpose, which is to maintain and make available a full social and historical record.

There is no legal obligation for a local newspaper to remove a story, even after a number of years. Just as the physical newspaper will still be in existence, it is important that a digital archive is also maintained accurately. 

Children and young people

People under 18 years old have anonymity in court. In youth court, this is automatic. In crown court, a special order is made.

Once a juvenile defendant has been convicted, a judge (or magistrate) can lift the anonymity.

Often they will hear representations from the media about why we think the defendant should be named.

The reasons for lifting the anonymity could be:

1. Public interest. The crime for which they’ve been convicted was serious and shocking at the time it happened. People have a right to know the perpetrator has been found.

2. To act as a deterrent to others

As above, anonymity ceases if the young person dies. So that’s why in inquest reports, children who have died can be named.

Section 11 and Section 4

A Section 11 can be applied by a judge to suppress the reporting of certain information. For example, the name of an alleged victim of blackmail.

Why? Well, if someone is a victim of blackmail, they may not want their name and the accusations for which they’re being blackmailed made public. 

Knowing there are certain orders to protect victims of these crimes might encourage them to come forward.

Under Section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, courts have the power to suppress the publication of certain information until the end of a case.

This is to stop any prejudice towards another linked case. If several defendants are due to be tried separately on the same charge, reporting on the first one could prejudice a jury in a later case.

Further information 

More information on what to expect when you appear in court, published by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, can be found here: ipso.co.uk/media/1511/court-reporting-public.pdf