FixedIt: Court reports are not just about defence claims

March 20, 2021by Jane Gilmore

The Courier Mail reported on a man’s trial for strangulation, assault and wilful damage. 

The trial is still ongoing. The man on trial pleaded not guilty and has the right to the presumption of innocence – please keep this in mind if you’re commenting on this post. 

Apart from the headline, the article itself, while distressing, is actually a good example of a very difficult form of journalism.  

Court reporters can only report on evidence presented to the jury. They cannot give any opinions or make any judgements about the evidence presented to the court and they must not publish anything that could imply guilt or innocence. Their role is only to summarise evidence given and statements made to the court. 

If the report is (as this appears to be) on a day where a witness is being cross examined by the defence, the job of the court reporter is simply to report the testimony given that day. 

This can make for distressing reading. Questions by defence lawyers can run contrary to everything we are told about how we should respond to allegations of domestic abuse. The justification for this is certainly a topic for discussion in another article, but it cannot be part of a court report on an ongoing trial. Doing so could run the risk of causing a mistrial – a terrible outcome for everyone involved. 

This, however, does not mean headlines about a trial should only include claims by the defence, as happens far too often on court reports. It does not mean that a trial of serious charges should be minimised to nothing but text messages and emojis. The seriousness of these charges means everyone involved deserves better than this. 

FixedIt is an ongoing project to push back against the media’s constant erasure of violent men and blaming of innocent victims. If you would like to help fund it – even $5 a month makes a big difference – please consider becoming a Patron

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© Jane Gilmore 2014