Citizen Journalist Banned from Taking Notes in Court

Friday, February 25th, 2011. 6:34pm

Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Castle ward in Cambridge, and feminist activist, has been acting as a citizen journalist over the last two days reporting via Twitter on the progress of a court case from Guildford Crown Court.

According to a local radio station’s summary of what’s going on 28-year-old, Hannah Morris of of Littlewick Road in Knaphill, is accused of managing a brothel.

It appears that yesterday reporting restrictions were placed on the case by the judge. That could well have been reasonable. What’s certainly not right and what I’m writing this post to draw attention to is what Brooks-Gordon reported happened next:

#HMorris judge clear directions, no notes except press. Clerk came for our notes, I asked about Twitter, clerk said not.

I am shocked and appalled members of the public are being treated differently from the “press” in this way and not being allowed to take notes. Even worse is the suggestion that the court has confiscated notes from Brooks-Gordon and others.

Anyone should be able to go into court and take notes. On a number of occasions (1,2) I have been in court while reporting restrictions have been in place and I and others have not been prevented from taking notes. (Often reporting restrictions are time-limited eg. until the case is over).

Brooks-Gordon has already tweeted to note that memory is notoriously unreliable, she and others ought be permitted to make a record of what they are hearing, so that when the restrictions are lifted they can confidently and accurately report on what was said, and take other actions such as lobbying for changes in the law based on what they observed. The ban on not taking might also frustrate Brooks-Gordon in her academic work, preventing her from confidently and accurately quoting what went on.

I am also surprised by the draconian nature of the reporting restrictions, to forbid anyone saying anything at all about the content of a case is unusual, typically they are limited to specific pieces of information such as names of individuals (eg. children).

When the reporting restrictions were announced, any of those present ought to have been given the opportunity to challenge them if they are unreasonable. If Brooks-Gordon or others present think they are unreasonable they ought be able to challenge them now. She ought be able to put a case to the court to be given her notes back and be allowed to take further notes.

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