Why newspapers report court cases and what to expect
Newspapers routinely report what happens in court as part of making sure justice happens fairly. It is important that the public is told about what happens so they can see justice in action, commonly known as ‘open justice’. Journalists often go to court to report on the cases being heard. When they are there, a reporter will take notes, recording the trial. Journalists use these notes to make sure that their reports are accurate. A newspaper can use these notes as evidence that they took care to make sure that their article was accurate. Even if there is only one reporter in court, a story about the case may appear in many different newspapers, including national newspapers. This is because the reporter might work for an agency and may provide the story to several newspapers. In other cases, a newspaper might see the original story and also want to report the case.
A journalist might be at one, some or all days of a trial. Stories might be published at any point of the trial and may not cover the whole case. Newspapers might not always print a story with both the prosecution and defence’s arguments, particularly if they were heard on different days. Newspapers may also not always report the outcome of a case which it has previously reported parts of. If part of the case has been reported but the outcome has not, you should contact the newspaper. After this, the newspaper should publish a report with the outcome of the case. Sometimes people are upset that what they think is important is not included in the story. This is because editors are allowed to choose what is or is not included. However, a story or series of stories must not be so one-sided that these are significantly misleading.
What can newspapers publish?
Generally, newspapers are allowed to publish:
- Anything that has been said in court or used as evidence, including evidence or testimony given by either a witness or a defendant
- The name, age and/or address of anyone who is involved in a court case
- Photos of anyone involved in a court case, including photos taken by a photographer or photos from social media.
There are some exceptions and some information can’t be published. This is explained in the next section of this document.
Information heard in court
Journalists are generally allowed to report anything which is said or given as evidence in court. They do not have to check whether the evidence given is true, but journalists must report correctly what was said as evidence.
Names, addresses and ages
When reporting a court case, a newspaper normally reports details about the defendants and witnesses such as their name,
age and address. Normally, newspapers will report a partial address (for example John Smith of High Street). However, journalists are allowed to publish someone’s full address, if this is necessary to identify someone. It is important to include these details so that readers do not confuse these people with someone with the same name. If you are a witness or a victim in a trial, your name and other details may also be reported.
Newspapers will often publish photos of people who are involved in a court case to help readers to identify these people. Police often also give photos to journalists for this reason. If a newspaper does not have a photo, a journalist might use another photo already available in the public domain. This may include photos taken from social media. This is normal practice, but, if you are worried about how journalists have used a photo, or anything else from social media, you might find it helpful to read our guidance. If a newspaper cannot find a suitable photo, the editor may send a photographer to take a picture. As people leave court, it is acceptable for them to be photographed. Taking and publishing a photo of someone involved in a court case is in the public interest. The Code does not generally stop a newspaper from doing this. However, photographers and journalists must not harass people when taking a photo. If you are concerned about harassment, you should read our guidance or contact us for advice.