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Short Journalistic Court Reports. Happenings in Court
12th August, 2015: This afternoon the trial of Mr XXXX, on charges of YYY, opened in Bradford Crown Court. The defendant entered a plea of not guilty.
Events around which the trial centres took place in a pub in an area of Huddersfield in late 2014.
No reporting restrictions prevent me naming the defendant, the witnesses, or the charge, nor the circumstances (sic, added 13th August, 2015) presented by the prosecution. No moral issue makes me coy about reporting all details which emerged in Court in the presence of the jury. Nor would I have qualms about reporting what the first witness, the alleged victim in this case, said on the stand.
My lack of specifics is because though in Court as a news journalist, sitting in the press box directly opposite the jury, my purpose was to learn more about the anatomy of a trial, to hone my reporting instincts, and revise my reporter's training. My goal is to ensure that as an investigative journalist with an interest in forensic science and medical evidence, and in the intersection of the criminal justice system with the mental health act, and with police work, I have exercised due professional diligence.
The readership I am aiming my journalism at comprises a combination of scientists and journalists (the previous word should read politicians, but is a Freudian slip, because I perhaps ought also to be aiming at journalists the particular story mentioned in the previous paragraph)internationally. So, since they do not live in Court rooms, this is what I observed on day one of a trial on charges of criminal activity.
Once the defendant, prosecuting and defence Counsel (previous word spelt incorrectly and corrected 14.8.2014) were in Court the judge indicated to the usher she might bring in the prospective jurors. There were 16. The judge told the defendant that when the jurors were named he might, if he had grounds, object to them being empanelled. When the 12 were in the jury box the judge told the jurors of the location of the crime alleged, and the name of the witnesses. He said that if any of them had a conflict of interest they needed to speak up before the trial began, so that an alternate could take their place.
With those formalities out of the way the prosecution laid out her case, and called the first witness, the alleged victim. Next defence counsel questioned the same witness. From time to time the judge intervened, urging counsel to reach the core of her defence.
That was the end of the first day of this trial. To a seasoned court reporter, such as the freelancer I chatted with in the press room, this might be a low key case. To the individuals involved it is not. But the case embodied for me professionally the principles I am revising, as I explore how best to report cases in which detailed psychiatric forensic evidence is presented in a high stakes criminal case.
Two corrections, each in brackets, added by HG on 13th August, 2015. An additional correction made on 14th August, 2015, also mentioned in brackets.
By Helen Gavaghan, freelance journalist, science writer
and editor of Science, People & Politics
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