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Access to courts for journalists - troubles of lockdown and not opening up since
22 Apr 2022
by Dani Wozencroft

As well as being an amazing copywriter for Team J&PR, Dani is also a journalism lecturer - meaning she knows the importance of future journalists having access to courts as part of their studies.

Recently, she campaigned for the courts to reopen to the public post-Covid. 

Here’s what she has to say…

One of the main principles of justice in the UK is the fact it is open. Open justice for all. 

It discourages any wrongdoing on the part of the court or justice system, it discourages people from breaking the law (knowing their name and court process will be aired in open public) and in the main, it helps the public uphold faith in the UK justice system.

I am a huge advocate of this. And a huge advocate of going to see court in real life, something many journalists do on a weekly basis (used to be daily, but with closures of courts and less reporting staff, it is becoming less frequent). It also pretty exciting at times!

Experience for the future of journalism

As well as working at J&PR I am also a lecturer in journalism at City of Wolverhampton College. As part of this course, students go to see court. It is important to become familiar with the process and know what to expect when you go in for the first time as a reporter, being paid to write a story about what is happening there.

It also really helps to bring to life what you’re learning in textbooks and lectures in the classroom.

Access to courts post-Covid

So, what happens when a worldwide pandemic hits and courts close their doors?

I’ll tell you - you struggle to get access.

In the main, completely understandable - to begin with courts were not sitting, online links were difficult to set up and social distancing meant numbers in the public gallery were limited (much more important for family, friends, victims etc to take up the limited number of seats rather than a bunch of trainee journalists on a day trip).

But once that subsides and you’re still not allowed in. What kind of open justice are we serving then? If the public gallery doesn’t hold just regular members of the public, is it even in public?

Campaigning for change

I struggled and fought and asked and asked and probably became a little annoying as I tried to get my students allowed in to see a hearing - or even part of one.

In the end I just couldn’t do it on my own and I had to enlist the help of our exam board, the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

The exam board had to contact Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service on my behalf, and behalf of other journalism trainers, to try to get better access. You can read about what they did and how it went here.

Rather embarrassingly they decided to use my LinkedIn profile picture to make me a poster girl for court access.

So we ended up getting a video link to court and it went great, better than any visit we’d done before in fact.

But we still haven’t been into the building. Still can’t step foot in there.

Open justice? Yes, if you have a special contact there who can help arrange it for a specific purpose…

Let's hope we are allowed to walk into a public court as a member of the public again very soon and open justice can be upheld.

Want to chat more to Dani about this, or perhaps want to join her on her campaign? Email her at dani.wozencroft@jandpr.com