Law Column: IPSO issues guidance on court reporting
We all know that the Editors’ Code of Conduct deals with aspects of court reporting – in its “reporting a crime” and “victims of sexual assault” clauses, for example. But IPSO has now issued additional guidance called “Guidelines on Court Reporting” – this does not replace the provisions contained in the Code, but is designed to help journalists and editors in their decision-making.
The Guidance is useful reading for court reporters, but it also raises questions about how the Code and the law interact.
The first section of the Guide deals with accuracy and specifically states that when police or public agencies issue press releases, if there is “in case of doubt or apparent contradictions on material information, it must be verified independently”. Of course, if a journalist finds contradictions in a press release or if it does not correspond to his own view of the case, it is essential to seek clarification – this is basic journalistic practice.
But, the Guide then cites a specific IPSO decision in which a publication was rejected for violating clause 1(i) because it relied on a police press release, which contained inaccurate information. regarding a sentencing hearing. After receiving the complaint, the publisher contacted the police, who corrected the press release, and the publication issued a clarification.
From a defamation perspective, the publisher has the right to rely on a press release from the police or a public agency and is protected by qualified privilege to do so (so long as he does not act not maliciously), subject to correcting any errors if confirmed by the organization that issued the waiver.
This is a great example of how the law and the Code have different results – there would have been no successful defamation suit in the cited case, but the publisher was found to be in breach of clause 1 ( i). It is therefore important for journalists and editors to remember to consider Code concerns as well as legal issues, especially at a time when some court cases are covered entirely by press releases, rather than by the presence to the court.
The Guide goes on to offer advice regarding social media, and one of the points raised is whether comments should be muted or disabled where possible to avoid a risk of contempt – which is certainly good advice. from a legal point of view.
Enforcement of Article 9, which deals with the identification of friends and family members of those accused of crimes, can be difficult. It’s easy to see why relatives and friends are referenced in news reports, especially when they’re famous, but are they really relevant to the story? The Guide presents two illustrative cases.
The singer, Jamelia, complained to IPSO when articles named her as the sister-in-law of a man convicted of murder, but IPSO ruled there was no breach because she had been named in court and cited by the defendant in a reporting restriction request – that meant she was really relevant to the story. The other case cited in the Guidance involved an article that included a photo of an arrested woman, but her mother was visible in the background. IPSO ruled that the woman in the background was identifiable and that Term 9 had been breached because she was unrelated to the case.
The guidelines state that it is normally permissible to identify people who attend court to support a defendant.
As always, the application of Article 9 will be case-specific, but the examples cited and points raised are a useful aid in this decision-making process.
The section of the Guide covering sections 7 and 11, reporting sexual offences, also highlights areas where the law and the Code differ.
By law, victims of sexual offenses have the right to anonymity from the moment an allegation is made, whether or not there is a conviction. The right to anonymity can usually be waived in writing, but victims under the age of 16 cannot waive anonymity, and parents or guardians cannot do so on their behalf. However, section 7 goes further by stating that children under the age of 16 who are witnesses in sexual offense cases cannot be identified. Although publishers do not normally identify these witnesses, from a legal standpoint they are free to do so in the absence of reporting restrictions, as long as it does not identify the victim. This is an important distinction to note, and it is another example of the Code going further than the law.
When it comes to reporting cases of sexual offenses, it is obviously imperative not to report anything that is “likely to lead members of the public to identify that person as the person against whom the offense is alleged to have been committedin accordance with section 1(1) of the Sexual Offenses (Amendment) Act 1992. of the victim as a victim, including name, address, work or school identity, etc.
As we all know, it is imperative that reports of sexual offenses be assessed on an individual basis, while keeping puzzle identification in mind, to ensure compliance with Article 1(1). This would normally involve being very careful in identifying or inferring a relationship between the accused and the victim, but depending on the circumstances, certain details that suggest a relationship (as long as there is a sufficient pool large number of potential victims) are published.
I write this with caution, as there is no general rule and each case must be assessed on its own particular circumstances. But how does that square with the Code if, under clause 7(iv), “nothing can implicate the relationship between the accused and the child”? And does “relationship” refer to a family relationship or any relationship, like coach-athlete for example?
Arguably, the Code goes further than the law in this regard. While it is important to be cautious when it comes to potentially identifying victims of sexual offences, this is an important distinction to be aware of, as it is not only the criterion legal which must be taken into account.
Reading the advice as an editorial advocate only highlights the need to be aware of legal and regulatory restrictions, not least because complainants who receive a hit via IPSO often then try to file a legal complaint – and even s ‘there is no legal basis for the complaint, it can be costly and time-consuming to process.