Test your online journalism law: 3 – magistrate criticises police

Every day this week I am publishing an example of a legal dilemma that a journalism student might face (why? Read my previous post on students being publishers, and the responsibilities that come with that). I can’t promise a ‘right answer’ at the end of the week – but I hope you can comment on what a student publisher might do – and why.

Case 3: Judge criticises heavy handed police

Here’s another true story. You are attending magistrate’s court in your search for stories. One case related to a breach of bail conditions.

As the defendant hadn’t reported to a police station as required, seven police officers went to his house to find out why. 

The magistrate questioned why it had taken so many police.

“Clearly there is no crime in Heretown if so many police could be spared.”

The defendant was put on an electronic tag instead.

You decide to write a story along the lines of ‘magistrate criticises police’ against the background of the case.

The questions

  1. What are the legal issues here – and what tests need to be met for them to be an issue?
  2. Would you publish – and why?

‘Answers’ and discussion in the comments


1 thought on “Test your online journalism law: 3 – magistrate criticises police

  1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

    Some answers:
    1. The main legal issue here is contempt. The test is whether proceedings are still ‘active’. In this case, you need to ask if the case is closed. The case was actually referred on to Crown Court so it is still open and subject to contempt laws.
    2. You need to consider whether any of the details reported could influence the case. Certainly having seven police officers turn up at a defendant’s house may be considered a detail that might influence the judgement, so you may be careful about publishing anything that might also identify the defendant.


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