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Reporting the courts

 

Overview

Open justice is a fundamental principle of the New Zealand Justice system. Court proceedings are therefore generally open to the public. However, a judge has control over conduct in the court room and has wide statutory powers to protect the integrity of the trial process and the rule of law.[1] 

Who may report on court proceedings? 

No-one other than members of the media may make a record in court, whether that record be in the form of notes or film or recording, unless given permission by the Judge. All matters relating to in-court media coverage are at the discretion of the court.

For the purposes of reporting on the courts, the news media is defined as:

  • a person who is in the court for the purpose of reporting on the proceedings and who is either subject to or employed by an organisation that is subject to—

      a code of ethics; and

      the complaints procedure of the Broadcasting Standards Authority or the Press Council; or

  • any other person reporting on the proceedings with the permission of the court.

What information can be published about a case and when will be determined by the nature of the offence, the trial court and whether there are any specific statutory rules that apply – such as proceedings of the Youth Court.

The Courts have published guidelines concerning media coverage of court proceedings. The guidelines are applicable to the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the District Court and some statutory tribunals. The Supreme Court has published separate guidelines.

 

The Criminal Procedure Act, which came into force on 1 July 2013, was the biggest overhaul of criminal procedure in 50 years.  It is designed to simplify and streamline court processes, reduce delay and speed up the time it takes to resolve cases.   

The Act also recognises the role of the media in New Zealand’s courts, defines who the media are and allows reporters to be heard on name suppression matters.

A Ministry of Justice fact sheet explains the major changes and its impact on the media.

Criminal Procedure Act 2011

Criminal procedure at a glance [PDF, 312 KB]

General information

If you want to film, record or take photographs in New Zealand courts, you need to seek the permission of the judge or judicial officer by filling out the appropriate application form and be sent to the appropriate District Court or High Court. The Waitangi Tribunal has its own application form which should be completed and sent to Waitangi Tribunal Registrar

Application for in-court media coverage [PDF, 643 KB]

Waitangi Tribunal media application form [PDF, 232 KB]

Press benches

The “press bench” is an historical term, but now encompasses all media.  Depending on the court and its size, it ranges from a single chair and table to a designated shared bench with several chairs.  

Where there is a large media contingent, court staff will continue to seat the media together in another part of the courtroom, and will advise the judge.

Press bench signs have been distributed to all District and High Courts to help designate a media-only space.

Press sheets

Press sheets are media copies of documents where charges against defendants are outlined.  Under the Ministry of Justice’s current processes, press sheets:

  • are not destroyed at the end of the day of first appearance
  • are distributed to the press bench or are made available to media on request
  • are stored for one month
  • are destroyed after one month from date of first appearance
  • are kept in a designated space known to both court staff and media.

A disclaimer has been provided to each court to be kept with the press sheets, explaining that:

  • press sheets are provided to media as a courtesy and are the property of the court
  • press sheets must not leave the courthouse
  • press sheets are available on the day of first appearance and are not reprinted if lost or damaged
  • charges may have been amended or withdrawn since the date of first appearance and are not updated on the press sheet, there is a risk that the information on the press sheet may not be accurate after first appearance
  • name and or detail suppression may have been granted, therefore you must check with court staff before publishing.

 


[1]  See for example s 197 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011