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

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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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25 Comments

Anonymous

“I am a Judge. In order to give the kinds of verdict or judgements that I am expected to for the straightforward, highly paid, easy hours role I have, I am not happy about my decisions on facts or counter arguments scrutinised. Nor my comments to lawyers or witnesses. It is often difficult for me to be fair, transparent and morally upstanding in my role, and I like to show off too. I am not expecting to be shamed by the usual suspects in court, but there is a risk that unexpected notetakers will play the part of the unexpected Zapruder cine film in the JFK assassination while I go about my business. It is too difficult for me yo deny something like politicians did in the Irish police whistleblowing case did, if up pops a student with a contradictory note of my actions”

This is completely made up, but it is a worse case scenario.

Anonymous

Everything said in a courtroom is recorded anyway, numpty.

Anonymous

Not in the district judge courts at the Mags, county all branches or employment tribunal it isn’t comrade.( Never assume the lawyer on the other side is an idiot)

Why else do you think that no notes are being ordered to be taken when there is court of appeal dicta saying it is allowed.

Tommy Robinson’s crew have tried to record his magistrate court proceedings before. No chance. Same principle applies to note taking as to filming, if the staff can bluff it through.

Anonymous

Can this be translated into coherent English please!

Anonymous

Don’t pretend you cannot understand either of my comments. Someone else has either pretended for effect, or ignorantly stated, that all court proceedings are recorded. They are not.

Anonymous

Try making your point in 6 words i.e. “Not all court proceedings are recorded.” instead of waffling for hundreds.

Anonymous

Not

Not in Magistrates court it’s not.

Anonymous

Students get in the way. Get rid of them from courts.

William T Fox

And we need proof that those on the bench/in the system are out of touch?

Who is Gazza?

Anonymous

You are the one who is out of touch. Referencing Gazza ffs.

For the love of Dua Lipa.

Anonymous

I can totally understand if there are reporting restrictions.

If there are no restrictions, it is still courteous to let the usher know – ushers are handy friends to have and can often direct you to particularly interesting cases.

Anonymous

Reporting restrictions are only enforced in family courts or cases where small children and/or vulnerable individuals are involved. However, this is usually clearly stated on the doors of the court room in question and you will not be permitted to enter in the first place. These judges need to wake up and realise that it is not 1950’s anymore or get the hell out.

Anonymous

You’re wrong, whilst reporting restrictions may be noted on the court door, this doesn’t mean the public cannot go into the court, it just means … wait for it … you cant report on the proceedings!

Simon Pipe

In most cases you can still report on the proceedings: just not the aspects that are covered by the restrictions.

Anonymous

Unsure if the actions of a security guard and an usher should reflect the entire judiciary.

Trumpenkrieg

These are the kinds of petty tyrants and halfwits populating the Magistrates Courts.

SingaporeSwing

Often, the bench won’t even be aware of this sort of conduct…

Anonymous

The Old Bailey has always been the worst. Not only can one not bring in anything to the public gallery that won’t fit in one’s pocket (it has to be checked in at the enterprising travel agent’s over the road) but I had my notebook temporarily confiscated on the grounds not that I was writing down what I heard, but that I was ‘passing notes to my neighbour’ (to whom I had indeed shown what I had just written). I think the security guards have confused the courtroom with the classroom. The Supreme Court is the opposite, welcoming and informative, and appears to expect note-taking.

Patiently waiting for FW

Frustrated Writer…

Frustrated Reader

Same

Anonymous

Hadn’t we better have a survey on this because the judge was “mean”?

Anonymous

Students need to harden up.

Next they will want to be warned before hard subjects such as rape are taught.

FFS they don’t have to watch it.

Anonymous

It’s probably most telling that your first thought was rape……. unnerving as that is.
I’m lost to how students are meant to “harden up” in the context of the article. Offer to take the usher outside for a fight?

Laura

As the person who raised this issue with Dr. Quirk, I am unsure as to what you mean by ‘harden up’. I raised the issue as I was concerned about not being allowed to take notes – court proceedings are supposed to be public in the interest of ‘open justice’. The case was a fraud case, no vulnerable witnesses or defendents, etc. Yes, this is part of somebody’s life, but this is also part of my education, and legally speaking, there are no restrictions on taking notes in court, unless there are reporting restrictions in place. And there were none, at least in my case.

Simon Pipe

When I accompany Coventry University journalism students to court, I take along a copy of the appeal court ruling that says the public have the right to take notes unless there is reason to believe they intend to prejudice the trial – for instance, by briefing a witness who is yet to give evidence. I have had to challenge ushers on our right to take notes; I have not had to produce the ruling. The briefing I have written for students explains the situation and provides the online link to the ruling.

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