Voice of the Paper: Justice needs to be seen to be done

Roger Hawes
Roger Hawes

Justice needs to be seen to be done and I am sure that most people will appreciate the media has its part to play in this vital democratic role.

But in recent years reporting from the courts, particularly in local papers like the Gazette, has fallen away mainly due to big reductions in staff numbers.

It has always been a time consuming business covering court and as an editor you are never sure what a reporter will come back with as the legal system can be notoriously slow and complicated.

It was common to spend a day or even two in the press box during my years as a reporter and to return to the office with nothing more than an adjournment.

In today’s jam-packed world of journalism, that sort of time luxury is long gone. So the crown and magistrates courts in the West and Central Herts Bench rarely get a visit from our reporters. So to compensate for this lack of due diligence many local papers now publish decisions from the magistrates. In the case of the Gazette we feature those coming before the courts each week for Court Watch and include the sentence meted out. All pretty low key compared to 20 years ago. Our list produces some interesting scenarios and I know it is very popular amongst Gazette readers and online users who like to know who has been a naughty boy (or girl) this week. Needless to say those that feature in the list, which I might add is supplied by the courts, are not so enthusiastic about seeing their names and addresses in the spotlight. And in today’s world of social media and online publication, court convictions can receive a potentially worldwide audience.

My deputy Damien often has to field abuse from those named and shamed demanding they should get a say in what is printed. A brilliant example of that I experienced last week when I was contacted by a convicted violent robber who asked me what right I had to put their name, address and picture in the paper without their permission.

Of course I was polite enough to explain that details are sent out by the police eager to show criminals are being caught and convicted.

However, he resumed the verbal abuse stating ‘I have my rights, you know’. Pity he didn’t consider all that when threatening victims with a knife.

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