Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Courts and Reporting

In common-law jurisdictions, such as the UK, Canada and New Zealand, an indictable offence is one where the most serious kind of crime has been committed, such as rape, theft and murder. These types of offence are too serious to be dealt with in the Magistrate’s Court, and so they must go to Crown Court, which is the ‘higher court of the first instance’ because they must be tried in front of a jury.

If a defendant has pleaded not guilty at their committal hearing (this takes place at the magistrates’ court) then the case is sent to trial at the Crown Court. The facts of the case are presented to the 12 people of the jury by both the prosecution and the defence, and any witnesses involved are questioned. This process can vary in time from 1 day for small cases to several weeks if the crime is particularly serious or if there are a large of witnesses to go through.

If the jury find the defendant guilty, then they will come back at a later date for their sentence. A typical sentence could be either serving time in prison, receiving a fine or community service, depending on the nature of the crime. Before sentencing, both the prosecution and defence barristers will argue a ‘plea’, each one stating their case on why the defendant should or should not get a lesser or greater punishment. The judge will then deliberate and decide on the appropriate sentence. The sentencing process is also the same for those who have pleaded guilty straight away.

Contempt of Court and Prejudice - This most affects journalists when reporting on a crime and publish material that may have an effect on a trial. Publishing prejudicial material may make a juror more likely to either find a defendant guilty or innocent.

Prejudice- Where publication of certain material may effect the way in which the defendant is treated, for example if the jury already know the defendants previous crimes.

Contempt - When material is published which are in breech of the rules of crime or court reporting.

there are 4 stages if processing and reporting a crime.

1. The crime has just been reported. The journalist has arrived at the scene of the crime. The police are out looking for the perpetrators. At this point the reporter is free to report with no risk prejudice.

2.The case becomes legally active, the police have made an arrest or say someone "is helping with inquires". Reporters must be careful what they say here as they may be at risk of prejudice. Be especially careful when reporting on descriptions of suspects.

3. The police lay charges. This means that there will be a trial. So anything you say now can not effect they way the defendant will be treated in court. You may only report on certain facts that you know wont be in contempt of court. Report on feeling, colour and emotion.

4. Magistrates court hearing, now you are very limited to what you can say -

  • Names of defendants, ages, addresses, occupations
  • Charges faced or a close summary
  • Name of court and magistrates names
  • Names of solicitors or barristers present
  • Date and place to where case is adjourned
  • Bail (only whether granted or not) and bail arrangements
  • Whether legal aid was granted

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