This is a quick post on what to do if a court is obstructive in providing details of a defendant, including their name and address.
In the various training sessions I carry out for media, this is a fairly constant complaint – that magistrates, judges and court staff are sometimes reluctant to give reporters access to very basic details about a defendant.
There are some very limited circumstances in which a court can restrict reporting of some details about a defendant, but these are exceedingly rare, and in any event should be enforced by the relevant court order, allowing for representation from the media.
This is not the situation I am talking about here. I am told by many reporters in different parts of the country that when they ask for a defendant’s address in particular, they are told that the court will not provide that information even where there is no legal reason whey they should not do so.
Any judge, magistrate or member of court staff behaving in such a manner is wrong and here is why.
Firstly, it is contrary to the principles of open justice. In normal proceedings everyone is properly identified – defendant, witnesses, judges, magistrates and yes, even the lawyers.
Secondly, a defendant’s address is part of his identity, it differentiates him from other people of the same name. This was stated very clearly by the Record of Liverpool David Clark, in R v Carroll in 2000, where a defendant fearing reprisals wanted his address to be withheld.
Thirdly, a court behaving this way is acting in defiance of its own rules on reporting restriction. Any reporter facing this situation should refer the court to this document – Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts – which sets out their obligations.
See page 23, which explains the requirements on the courts to make lost available and that, “At a minimum the lists should contain each defendant’s name, age, address and, where known, his profession and the alleged offence. Courts will not breach the Data Protection Act 1998 by providing journalists with such information.”
It is perfectly clear what the courts should provide. Any judge or magistrate who objects to providing this information really ought to take the matter up with the Ministry of Justice and refrain from restricting information on a whim.
If you want me to train your staff in challenging obstructive courts, and other media law matters, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org