Campaign for tape recording in courts gathers steam online
Online journalism expert Paul Bradshaw and Barrister Alistair Kelman are supporting the campaign begun by Heather Brooke
Brooke spearheaded the call for tape recordings to be allowed in courts following her difficulties when reporting from the Information Tribunal, which she recently discussed in an article for the Times.
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk she said having shorthand is not enough to ensure an accurate court report and provide records for others.
"The issue is that it is not just about having shorthand," she said. "I have shorthand and you just cannot take down everything in real time."
She added that a side issue to be addressed is accessibility to court notes, which are often referred to by lawyers but unavailable to the public.
"You have to beg and plead to the various lawyers to give it to you," she told Journalism.co.uk. "A professional journalist should not have to be begging or asking people as a favour to give you it, it should be public information."
"All these things are electronic and so it is not an extra cost to the public purse," she added. "The public are ill served by the courts. This is about making sure the public are an integral part of the court system. They are at the moment, I would say, actively obstructed from seeing justice being done."
Since re-posting the Times article on her blog today, fellow journalists and other interested parties have pledged their support via Twitter and are now trying to formulate a strategy on how to take the matter further.
Barrister Alistair Kelman has used government campaign site Your Freedom to start a campaign to abolish Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act, which currently makes it illegal to tape record court proceedings, unless permission is granted by a judge.
Meanwhile, online journalism expert Paul Bradshaw has also shown his support via a second hashtag on Twitter and is encouraging political pressure as one plan of attack from his Online Journalism Blog.
He told Journalism.co.uk that transparency of court proceedings is paramount to justice.
"Part of justice is that it must be seen to be done, and yet people are as blindfolded as Justice herself when it comes to knowing what happens in our courts," he said. "The judicial system has enormous power - and with that must come accountability to the public. That means transparency and the ability to record proceedings - as in so many other countries - must be the default, along with access to those recordings of proceedings."
Writing for the Times, Brooke said she originally came across the problem of sourcing accurate records of court proceedings upon her visit to the Information Tribunal when she was fighting for the release of MPs' expenses.
"That's when I discovered the only record of proceedings of this so-called "open" people's court (the Tribunals are meant to be a less formal, more accessible form of justice) were my scribbled notes. When it came time to write a script for a dramatised version of the hearing my notes and those of other reporters were all we had to go on. I'd asked at the time if I could tape record the hearing and was told 'no'."
Visiting the court again recently, she tried to "press harder" to be granted permission to record, but was again refused.
"The simple answer is to allow tape recorders for all: no party is disadvantaged and an 'official' recording is there for checking," she adds. "This is how it works in other countries. But this is to ignore the root objection of the courts: that they are losing control of how court proceedings are presented to the public."
She told Journalism.co.uk that more journalists now need to come forward and add their voice to the campaign.
"We need more journalists to come forward and talk about how they feel it restricts them," she said. "We need actual examples from them, or members of the public who felt like they didn't understand what was going on, or even people who have actually been put in jail."
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