Lawyers’ anger as students told they can’t make notes during court visits

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By Katie King on

Lecturers complain to courts amid claims one student even had their notebook confiscated

Barristers and academics of Twitter have told students to make notes to their heart’s content after it emerged some aspiring lawyers have been banned from scribing in courtrooms. Some lecturers are so disgruntled by the practice they’ve written to court to complain.

Nigel Green, a media law and public affairs lecturer at Leeds Trinity University, started the furore on Twitter when he asked “when will court staff get the message” that people can take notes in court. Expanding to Legal Cheek, Green said he’s had “various problems” over the years with journalism student visits. He explained:

“A couple of years ago, we had one usher tell students they were not allowed to write any information at all because it was ‘confidential’. We even had a security guard at magistrates tell students they couldn’t copy names from the list. When one student asked why not, the guard replied: ‘You wouldn’t like it if it was one of your relatives.’”

Most recently, last week ushers apparently told students they couldn’t take notes without the judge’s permission. Green said he tried to challenge this informally at the time, and has now written a letter to the court. Legal Cheek has made steps to contact a judiciary spokesperson about this but as yet they have not issued a comment.

Law students, like journalism students, will likely be used to visiting courts, and it seems this ‘no notetaking’ issue impacts them too. Hannah Quirk, a senior criminal law lecturer at the University of Manchester, told her followers:

So concerned by this student feedback, Quirk, like Green, wrote to the court to complain. She made clear in her letter the Criminal Procedure Rules state anyone who attends court may quietly make notes, as long as it does not interfere with the proper administration of justice. On the law on this, it’s also worth noting that in a case from last year, Lord Justice Burnett said:

“There is no rule of law, practice or convention prohibiting all those in court from making notes without permission. A necessary feature of the principle of open justice is that those present in court should be able to make notes regarding the proceedings, either for the purposes of reporting… or for personal interest and private purposes.”

The court has responded to Quirk, making clear that notes can be taken unless otherwise directed. “If you visit again please stress to the usher in the court that you wish to make notes and could this be ratified by the judge,” the reply continued.

Quirk is not the only law academic concerned by this judicial penchant for banning in-court scribbling.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

Kevin Crosby, who works at Newcastle University, said he always sends first years to court at the very beginning of their degree. Last year, one student had their notebook confiscated. Though he conceded to Legal Cheek the whole thing was sorted within an hour or so, it was of course pretty stressful for the student involved.

Stressful maybe, but the last thing these raging lawyers want is for students to be turned off visiting courts. Quirk told us:

“I think it is enormously beneficial for students to see ‘the law in practice’ and open justice is a fundamental principle. I am concerned that some visitors to the courts may be deterred from attending which is wrong and damaging. I hope the senior judiciary will make it clear that this policy should stop.”

And, in the words of anonymous advocate the Secret Barrister:

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