Courts and Legal System- Reflection

The Cats lecture about reporting on court cases of all kinds in courts such as Crown, Magistrates and Coroner’s Court began with talking about showing emotion like Graham Satchell showed on BBC Breakfast when reporting from Paris yesterday.

We discussed this and mentioned other emotional reports like Martin Lewis in the bulletin when Diana Princess of Wales had died and Murray Walker getting emotional as Damon Hill won his Formula 1 World Championship title as other examples of when it is fair for a journalist to convey emotion rather than appearing to be like an emotionless robot.

It was also interesting to discuss the seemingly inevitable effects of cutbacks the BBC are going to suffer in the coming months/years like the loss of many red button services.

Learning about the courts and the rich vein of stories we can garner from them was something of an eye-opener even after we had all passed our law journalism exam with Telegraph court reporter Nicky Harley last year.

We knew that it was important that, as journalist’s, it’s essential we understand the way the courts work, right down to making sure the door closes quietly when proceedings are underway.

We learnt that summary offences are dealt with by the magistrates court and there might be three lay magistrates who have no legal qualifications, they are all criminal cases but the maximum custodial sentence they can hand down is 12 months for each offence, up to a maximum of 65 weeks.

The main differences between magistrates and crown court are that a crown court can hand out the maximum sentence allowed for a particular offence but a jury must decide that the charge has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt.

A coroner’s court investigates death in particular circumstances and doesn’t determine innocence or guilt but the verdict by the coroner can lead to a trial and criminal prosecution.

The coroner is either a doctor or a lawyer who is responsible for investigating deaths in particular circumstances such as a sudden, violent or unexplained death.

Contempt laws still apply in the coroner’s court and a coroner can give what is called a narrative verdict which is a summing up of the circumstances surrounding a verdict.

Talking about the Coroner’s Court also brought back very upsetting memories for me as I talked about my experience of being at a Coroner’s Court when we had the inquest into my sister Heidi who passed away in December 2006, it was all I could do to hold back the tears especially this close to the anniversary of when we lost her.

We can also tweet from a court although it must be kept to just fact and a journalist must NEVER be drawn into conversation about something they have tweeted from a court.

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