New reporting restriction rules in effect for criminal cases

Out-Law News | 05 Oct 2011 | 9:45 am | 1 min. read

Courts must allow the media an opportunity to challenge any discretionary reporting restrictions they place on a criminal hearing following changes to court rules for England and Wales.

Under the Criminal Procedure Rules 2011, which came into effect on Monday, courts can impose discretionary restrictions on reporting at a public hearing or prevent the public attending a hearing.

However, before placing or removing restrictions on reporting, the court "must have regard to the importance of dealing with criminal cases in public; and allowing a public hearing to be reported to the public" and must not exercise reporting restriction powers "unless each party and any other person directly affected is present; or has had an opportunity to attend, or to make representations". 

Judge Patrick Moloney QC said that the rules could mean the press receives more advanced warnings about reporting restrictions, according to a report by the Press Gazette. 

"There is an express provision that whenever a judge is invited to make a discretionary order in respect of reporting restrictions, he should give the press and opportunity to attend and make representations," Moloney said, according to the Press Gazette's report.  

"The press means all the press - the fact that a chap from one paper is there does not mean that all the other papers affected are represented. If these procedures are honoured then there will be considerably more advance consideration given to the making of reporting restrictions or their variation and considerably more express notice to the press," the judge said, according to the Press Gazette. 

Under the new rules courts can also issue discretionary order to "vary or remove a reporting or access restriction that is imposed by legislation; withhold information from the public during a public hearing; order a trial in private" and allow sound recordings or other "communication by electronic means" to take place during a hearing. 

Moloney said that the provisions would specifically allow courts to sanction the use of tape recorders and communication via Twitter during criminal trials, according to the Press Gazette's report. He said that it may take courts some time to adapt to the new rules. 

"The likelihood is that orders will continue to be made, until the words get round, without notice. But then you can turn up and in the politest possible way remind the court of these new rules and hopefully the word will get round and the press will be kept in the loop," Moloney said, according to the Press Gazette.