It is well established that the news media plays a pivotal role ‘in facilitating open justice’ by reporting on the proceedings of the courts. Following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the shutting of physical court rooms in England and Wales in March 2020, journalists needed to adapt to new ways of working by covering ‘virtual’ courts (sometimes called ‘digital’ or ‘remote’ courts).
This report provides an insight into the work of media reporters covering criminal courts during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in Spring 2020, considering the way in which courts and information on hearings were accessed; the routines of court reporters; and their perceptions of the maintenance of the principle of open justice in this context. The report explores this by detailing the self-reported experiences and insights of reporters, obtained through interviews.
Whilst most reporters believed that virtual courts afforded greater opportunities to access a greater range of hearings, the loss of face-to-face contact meant that traditional approaches to newsgathering in criminal courts – such as the ability to follow up on matters arising in hearings and the maintenance of key relationships – were challenged. This arguably had negative implications for the quality and depth of reporting on criminal cases.
The report concludes that virtual hearings do have implications for open justice (albeit complex ones), should they be expanded beyond the immediate crisis of the pandemic, which appears highly likely.
Smith, T., Reardon, S., Keppel-Palmer, M., & Gross, B. (2022). ‘An endlessly strange experience’: Experiences of media reporting on criminal courts during the Covid-19 pandemic. University of the West of England