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It is criminal: The state of magistrates’ court reporting in England and Wales

Chamberlain, Phillip; Keppel-Palmer, Marcus; Reardon, Sally; Smith, Thomas

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Phillip Chamberlain

Sally Reardon
Senior Lecturer in Multimedia/Multiplatform Journalism

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Tom Smith
Associate Professor in Law


There is a widespread perception that there has been a collapse in court reporting in England and Wales as local legacy media struggles to survive in times of falling revenues and shifting audiences. However, there is little empirical evidence with which to examine the issue. This research aims to fill this knowledge gap by carrying out the first week-long systematic coding of the activity of one England and Wales magistrates’ court coupled with a concurrent survey of local media coverage of the courts. While 240 cases were observed during the week-long study, only three stories appeared in the local press and only one case was attended by a journalist. Moreover, the research team identified a significant number of ‘newsworthy’ cases among the sample – all of which were missing from media coverage. Although small in scale, this research does indicate that, in an average week, the vast majority of cases heard at this level of the criminal justice system is largely invisible to the public, with virtually no independent oversight from journalism. This is at odds with the key principle of open justice. The article ends with some suggestions for regenerating the area by shifting from court reporting to a Justice Reporting model, with the ultimate aim of effectively filling the void in external scrutiny of day-to-day criminal justice.


Chamberlain, P., Keppel-Palmer, M., Reardon, S., & Smith, T. (2021). It is criminal: The state of magistrates’ court reporting in England and Wales. Journalism, 22(9), 2404-2420.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 24, 2019
Online Publication Date Aug 7, 2019
Publication Date Sep 1, 2021
Deposit Date Jun 26, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jun 26, 2019
Journal Journalism
Print ISSN 1464-8849
Electronic ISSN 1741-3001
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 9
Pages 2404-2420
Keywords journalism, court reporting, news values, justice reporting, open justice, citizen journalism
Public URL
Additional Information Additional Information : © 2019. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications


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