A journalist's dilemma in Court

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Friday 16th october, 2015: A dilemma for a journalist reporting from a Crown Court crossed my mind for the first time today. What is my legal obligation as a journalist if I enter a Court room mid trial, sit in the location where press usually sit, and unexpectedly recognise a juror. From that flows a second question: what is my legal obligation as a journalist if I recognise a juror before or during their empanelment? Must I leave the "press" box, leave the Court, tell an usher, any or all three of the above?

I handed a note with these queries, and my driver's licence, my press card and my CIoJ membership card to the clerk for His Honour Judge Burn, whose Court room I was in today. She returned my proof of identity, press card, and professional affiliation, and said she would give the note to the Judge. This transaction took place just before a jury returned with a verdict.

The judge gave me no answer.

After the Court rose the clerk asked me to stay a moment, and said I had no legal obligation to inform anyone if I recognised a juror. It was my understanding she was telling me this as a member of the press, and as a citizen, separate from my professional identity. I inferred, but do not know, she was relaying a response from the judge.

The dilemma, which crossed my mind for the first time today, had and has not happened to me. But now the thought has arisen I have an ethical query. If my understanding of what I was told is correct, then even if there is no legal obligation, if I knew the juror well enough to have conversation with that person, perhaps the only reasonable action for a journalist to take would be to leave the location in Court where the press traditionally sit in that Court room, and to also leave the Court room? That would seem to me to be different from were I in Court simply as a member of the public, sitting in the public gallery. Ethically I would think it might be impossible for me, if I knew a juror well enough to have conversation with them, to write anything about that trial such that it could be wholly above suspicion to third parties as a piece of journalism.

By Helen Gavaghan at Bradford Crown Court, 16th, October, 2015.
Freelance journalist, science writer, and editor of Science, People & Politics


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