Legal aﬀairs journalism
DOI link for Legal aﬀairs journalism
Legal aﬀairs journalism book
It should go without saying that legal aﬀairs as a specialist topic is distinct from court and crime reporting. It is simpler to establish clear blue water between legal aﬀairs from crime reporting because criminal law forms only one element of law. Newspapers and broadcasters will have dedicated crime correspondents as well as court reporters. The distinction between legal aﬀairs and court reporting is less clear cut, but both require particular skills, knowledge and expertise. Fundamentally, the task of the legal aﬀairs correspondent is to explain how the law operates and why certain judgments have been reached. Comment and criticism come into play. Crime and court reporters have a diﬀerent agenda and function. Legal aﬀairs embraces non-contentious relationships between individuals,
companies or organisations, contentious civil litigation and criminal investigations/ prosecutions. The latter should be familiar territory for media students and trainee journalists. The police charge a suspect with a crime. There is a guilty or not guilty plea. There is a trial or a plea in mitigation. There is an acquittal or a sentence. Court reporting rules govern what information may be published at the time. Court reporters mainly regurgitate what is put before the courts. Legal aﬀairs specialists are expected to oﬀer educated and informed views on the law. That might be to comment on the progress of legislation (statute and common law) and to explain the respective rights, remedies and obstacles facing litigants and defendants (in the criminal and civil courts or tribunals). It may be to highlight discrepancies and absurdities in the legal system, to identify failings in the civil and family court procedure, or to take ministers to task over the scope and impact of legislative reforms. One key diﬀerence between civil and criminal law is that once a suspect is
charged with an oﬀence it is taken as read that the matter will go to court (subject to the proviso that a suspect is not dealt with by way of police caution or that the Crown Prosecution Service drops the matter). However, civil law operates inside and outside court. The vast majority of actions are dealt with outside. About three per cent of claims ﬁled to court and served on defendants/respondents actually proceed to trial. A number are abandoned or struck out for substantive or technical reasons, but the majority are settled by negotiation, arbitration or mediation. Contentious litigation tends to be dropped or settled out of sight and hearing of court reporters – regardless of merit or value or newsworthiness.