Regina v Felixstowe Justices ex parte Leigh: CA 1987

The court considered the importance of the role played by the media in attending and reporting court proceedings. Watkins LJ said: ‘The role of the journalist and his importance for the public interest in the administration of justice has been commented upon on many occasions. No one nowadays surely can doubt that his presence in court for the purpose of reporting proceedings conducted therein is indispensable. Without him, how is the public to be informed of how justice is being administered in our courts? The journalist has been engaged upon this task in much the same way as he performs it today for well over 150 years. In her work, Justice and Journalism (1974), p. 24, Marjorie Jones, making a study of the influence of newspaper reporting upon the administration of justice by magistrates, stated, having referred to a case decided in 1831:
‘The same ruling that excluded the attorney admitted the newspaper reporter. The journalist entered, and has remained, in magistrates’ courts as a member of the public taking notes. The constant presence of newspaper men in magistrates’ courts provided not only a record of the proceedings but also a means of communication with the public. Through newspaper reports magistrates had access to a wider audience beyond the justice room or the police office. Communication is particularly important for deterrent sentencing, which requires that potential offenders shall be aware of the punishment they are likely to incur.’
In Dickens’ time journalists were the only impartial observers who sat regularly in magistrates’ courts, day after day, week after week, month after month. In the provinces, particularly, the same reporter might often cover the local courts for year after year. These men regarded themselves as representing the absent public. And they were the first to concern themselves with the defence of the defenceless in the summary courts. Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1955) stated with regard to the free press:
‘A newspaper reporter is in every court. He sits through the dullest cases in the Court of Appeal and the most trivial cases before the magistrates. He says nothing but writes a lot. He notes all that goes on and makes a fair and accurate report of it. He supplies it for use either in the national press or in the local press according to the public interest it commands. He is, I verily believe, the watchdog of justice. If he is to do his work properly and effectively we must hold fast to the principle that every case must be heard and determined in open court. It must not take place behind locked doors. Every member of the public must be entitled to report in the public press all that he has seen and heard. The reason for this rule is the very salutary influence which publicity has for those who work in the light of it. The judge will be careful to see that the trial is fairly and properly conducted if he realises that any unfairness or impropriety on his part will be noted by those in court and may be reported in the press. He will be more anxious to give a correct decision if he knows that his reasons must justify themselves at the bar of public opinion.’ and
‘There is . . no such person known to the law as the anonymous JP.’

Those observations suffice to emphasise to the mind of anyone the vital significance of the work of the journalist in reporting court proceedings and, within the bounds of impartiality and fairness, commenting upon the decisions of judges and justices and their behaviour in and conduct of the proceedings. If someone in the seat of justice misconducts himself or is worthy of praise, is the public disentitled at the whim of that person to know his identity?
It must ever be borne in mind that save upon rare occasions when a court is entitled to sit in camera, it must sit in public. The principle of open justice has been well established for a very long time.’

Watkins LJ
[1987] 1 QB 582
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedNorfolk County Council v Webster and others FD 1-Nov-2006
The claimants wished to claim that they were victims of a miscarriage of justice in the way the Council had dealt with care proceedings. They sought that the proceedings should be reported without the children being identified.
Held: A judge . .
CitedG, Regina (on the Application of) v Nottingham City Council Admn 1-Feb-2008
The respondent authority had removed the child from the mother at birth but without first obtaining any court authority. The court had made a peremptory order for the return of the child. The court explained its actions.
Held: Neither social . .
CitedMohamed, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (No 4) Admn 4-Feb-2009
In an earlier judgment, redactions had been made relating to reports by the US government of its treatment of the claimant when held by them at Guantanamo bay. The claimant said he had been tortured and sought the documents to support his defence of . .
CitedDoctor A and Others v Ward and Another FD 8-Jan-2010
Parents wished to publicise the way care proceedings had been handled, naming the doctors, social workers and experts some of whom had been criticised. Their names had been shown as initials so far, and interim contra mundum orders had been made . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Media, Magistrates

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.245939