Quid Pro Quo Clarice

This week I have written an article for Halsbury’s Law Exchange on the Transparency Guidance. If you care to saunter over there you will find it here, nestling next to a rather interesting article about the voice of P in the Court of Protection.

I am also in the process of writing some considerably more banal nonsense. And so the order of the universe will be restored soon enough.

Whilst I am writing, there is an interesting series of pieces on Community Care following the recent Panorama “I want my baby back” episode. A social worker wrote a strongly worded letter to John Hemming for “utterly undermining [social workers] work and profession”. He has responded in an article I don’t pretend to fully understand. There are comments. You should read the whole chabang, comments, letter ‘n’ all.

Bring on Friday…

Writing about Journalists

There was an interesting discussion on the comments flowing from one of my blog posts the other week – which exposed some variance in views about what journalists do, or at any rate how journalists should do journalism. It made me think that whilst I am sometimes critical of journalists or individual pieces of journalism I’ve never really given much thought to any accepted best practice or ethical code. What, I wondered, if I am really off beam with this?

So I went to look. Here’s what I found…I’m not going to make comment on it particularly – I think it’s pretty self explanatory and it hasn’t caused me to alter my views. But I thought it would be a useful reference point for future discussion.

The National Union of Journalists Code of Conduct says :

A journalist:

  1. At all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.
  2. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.
  3. Does her/his utmost to correct harmful inaccuracies.
  4. Differentiates between fact and opinion.
  5. Obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means, with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means.
  6. Does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest.
  7. Protects the identity of sources who supply information in confidence and material gathered in the course of her/his work.
  8. Resists threats or any other inducements to influence, distort or suppress information and takes no unfair personal advantage of information gained in the course of her/his duties before the information is public knowledge.
  9. Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
  10. Does not by way of statement, voice or appearance endorse by advertisement any commercial product or service save for the promotion of her/his own work or of the medium by which she/he is employed.
  11. A journalist shall normally seek the consent of an appropriate adult when interviewing or photographing a child for a story about her/his welfare.
  12. Avoids plagiarism. 

The Society of Editors Code of Practice is too long to reproduce in full here, but can be found on their website.

The OFCOM Broadcasting Code is here.

The BBC Editorial Guidelines can be found here. They seem much more robust and comprehensive than the other documents, but the BBC of course is a different beast and I know many would query the extent to which the BBC successfully adheres to all of this code all of the time. Indeed I would rhetorically ask how well the recent “I want my baby back” episode of Panorama would score.

And suddenly it all becomes clear…

Crystal Clear pic - thanks to Doun Dounell on flickr

And so the President has finally delivered his guidance as long anticipated, regarding transparency (see here). It will now be, as we had all expected, far more commonplace for judgments to be made public – in anonymised form – in many types of family proceedings.

A few key things :

This is part 1 of a far bigger project. It is the first toe in the water if you like. It’s really just about judgments – not about release of documents to the media, or about reporting restrictions or anything else.

The move towards publication as default which this guidance heralds does not apply (yet) to District Judges or Magistrates, who of course make a significant chunk of the decisions in these cases (the majority I would guess).

And publication as default does not apply across the board in all types of proceedings – to summarise there will be publication on public interest grounds or of any cases falling into particular categories (broadly the areas which are most controversial form the point of view of the Daily Mail or Telegraph – care and placement, deprivation of liberty, serious medical treatment, RRO applications and cases of exoneration or significant findings of fact) – unless there is some compelling reason why that should be disapplied. In addition the court may permit publication of a judgment on application.

Whilst children will almost always not be named, other family members are more likely to be named if they so wish. As was already plain from recent authorities Local Authorities and other public bodies, social workers and experts can no longer expect to remain anonymous where judgments are published.

Practical points – the Applicant (in the proceedings or, if judgment is produced as a result of an application for permission the Applicant for permission) is responsible for anonymising the judgment. That’s a pain – but someone has to do it.

The costs of obtaining the transcript will be borne at public expense in cases where the judgment is released on that ground, will be shared between all parties where it is released as a result of the type of proceedings, and by the applicant where there is a specific application.

Where proceedings fall into one of the listed categories there will be publication of the judgment only if it already exists in written form or has been transcribed or where the transcript is being ordered anyway. In cases where there is no transcript of an oral judgment the parties will remain open to apply for a transcript and permission to publish and the court may (not must) accede to that request. However in such circumstances there are costs implications – the applicant(s) would have to pay rather than all parties. I can see this might lead to some silly bugger type behaviour on occasion. I wonder if in practice such applications by (say) exonerated parents might be cumbersome because of the need to obtain funding prior to making such applications (both for the application and the entire cost of the transcript)?

Finally, similar guidelines have been published in the Court of Protection.


Crystal Clear pic – thanks to Doun Dounell on flickr