NCTJ arranges better access to courts for journalism students on accredited courses

The NCTJ has worked with Her Majesty’s court service to support students on accredited courses gain better access to hearings.

The NCTJ has worked with Her Majesty’s court service to support students on accredited courses gain better access to hearings.

With the support from HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), the NCTJ has put course leaders in touch with the relevant court managers in their regions to facilitate access to court rooms in person or via video link.

This initiative follows an NCTJ survey among journalism tutors who highlighted how important it was for their students to access court hearings, even if they could not attend in person.

Last year, the NCTJ received 31 responses from course leaders and law tutors who all said that they were unable to access court cases in person during the pandemic while Government restrictions were in place.

Only one in five respondents said their students had been able to access cases being heard remotely.

Despite restrictions easing, the NCTJ has found that students with some training providers were still unable to access local hearings after the NCTJ spoke to course leaders to ask who would need further support.

By putting those course leaders in contact with the relevant court officials, centres have now been able to give students that first-hand experience in allowing students to develop their understanding of court cases, media law and court reporting. Some have been able to access hearings via video link.

Dani Wozencroft, course leader of the diploma course at City of Wolverhampton College, said it was thanks to the NCTJ’s support that she had gained access to a morning session at Dudley Magistrates’ Court via video link on 11 January.

All students were in the classroom with one camera, and there were three other cameras on the call – two in court and one of a Crown Prosecution Service worker at home.

Dani said: “I had been struggling to arrange court visits or online access for learners for the past two cohorts.

“Courts this year were still maintaining social distancing and small public galleries meant they couldn’t accommodate a class of trainee journalists as well as friends/relatives of those concerned in proceedings.

“Court visits are a vital part of our studies and it was a huge concern for me, so I enlisted the help of the NCTJ.

“Through them, we were able to arrange to watch a morning session of Dudley Magistrates Court. This was a major benefit for learners to complement their studies. In many ways it worked better than an in-person court visit as we were able to talk through what we were seeing and question issues arising.

“On top of this, District Judge Wilkinson made himself available to speak to us afterwards and spent 20 minutes talking through cases we’d seen that morning and answering questions.
“Everyone was very accommodating and welcoming and all learners have agreed that it was a great boost to their court reporting module.”

Jonny Greatrex, course leader of the MA News Journalism course at Nottingham Trent University, was able to gain access to crown court proceedings via video link.

The virtual visit included a case that needed an interpreter, so everyone paused after each sentence, which allowed students with 60wpm or 80wpm to make notes.

Students also witnessed a defendant trying to argue with a judge during their sentencing and saw them get taken down for contempt.

Jonny said: “With the NCTJ’s support we’ve been able to build our best ever relationship with our local courts and get students access to live feeds to cover proceedings remotely.

“Nothing beats seeing a court in operation in person. However, as a teaching device, having students watching the feed and being able to use live chat on our own platforms to add context and explanation to proceedings has been incredibly effective.”

Jonny was able to put the feed on his second screen, then share it via Microsoft Teams into a call students could join. This meant they had the confidence they were not going to interrupt proceedings at all.

He added that the listings office was extremely helpful over email, returning details of cases such as dates of birth, addresses, precise charges etc within an hour.

Emma Robinson, accreditation manager at the NCTJ, said: “We need our journalists to be skilled and confident in covering courts, so they must be given access to the courts as part of their NCTJ training.

“It is with huge thanks to the HMCTS that we have been able to put tutors in touch with relevant court managers to help secure access for their students, whether it is in person or via video link.

“The NCTJ will continue to liaise with HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice to encourage as much access for journalism students and their tutors as possible, to ensure they are sufficiently prepared for covering court cases when they begin their careers.

“The principle of open justice requires scrutiny of the courts by professional journalists, and understanding court procedures remains a key element of the NCTJ’s industry-backed Diploma in Journalism and accredited news journalism courses.”

A spokesman for the HMCTS said: “‘Having open and transparent courts where justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done, is integral to our legal system and one way this principle is upheld is the attendance and reporting of proceedings by the media.

“So we’re pleased that we can support trainee journalists to gain an understanding of how courts work and get real experience of observing court proceedings.

“We acknowledge we have more work to do to improve media access to courts and tribunals, and we are working hard on improvements with media representatives – one initiative is the development of a publication service which aims to provide a single online source of court and tribunal hearing information for the media and others.”

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