Questions you just don’t ask

Second bit of blogging today. Shorter, I hope. But no less moany (sorry).

This morning, I explained that at the start of the hearing I attended this week, the judge asked me a question: she wanted to know why I wanted to attend that particular hearing.

This is problematic. But before I say why, I’ll explain something that happened before I attended a different remote hearing, a few weeks ago.

I had emailed to find out how to log in to this hearing – at that point I only had the case number, so I asked the Judicial press office to enquire for me. If I’d known who the judge was – I don’t think one had been assigned at that point – I’d have emailed the clerk (again, by going through the Judicial Office Press Office to find out what the right email address was). I don’t suppose the press office adores these requests of mine, because I don’t think it’s strictly their job to sort out media attendance (they are very obliging, nonetheless!), but I had earlier written to the supposedly correct email address and hadn’t heard  back.

I was helped out by a couple of people in the court service, and my email explaining I wished to attend the hearing was passed to the judge, as by that time, one had been appointed to the case.

I then received an email from the judge. He wrote that he was interested to know the basis on which I wished to attend the hearing. Had I been asked to attend by one of the parties, and if so, which one? Or was my interest in the case “non specific”.

Sooooo many problems with this too!

Let’s unpick why these judges’ questions make me so uncomfortable.

First of all, accredited media can attand most private family court hearings as of right. I don’t have to explain to anyone why I’m there or how I found out a case was happening.

There could be times when to do so would involve me revealing a source. Revealing sources is something journalists shouldn’t do. Particularly when my distinct sense is that if I were ever to disclose that one party (or maybe an organisation) had either suggested I might, or positively asked me, to attend (and people do, ALL the time), the judge might well take quite a dim view. Not to mention the aspersions that would doubtless be cast on a party for having done so, by the other side.

But… but… picture this. At the point at which a judge is deciding on the objections to me being there that are often raised by one or more of the parties, it would set a hearing off to quite a confrontational start if I was to refuse to answer a question such as “why are you attending this hearing?” or “has a party asked to you to attend?” by saying something along the lines of:  “I am entitled to be here, and my right to attend is not contingent on the court understanding my reasons for choosing this case”. Hoity toity or what?

Still… I think from now on, I am going to have to take this approach.

In the case I mentioned above, I was able to say, perfectly truthfully in response to the judge’s email, that no party had asked me to attend. In the second case, I simply said that I was attending a number of cases during the pandemic, and was interested in remote hearings. That too was true. But I now wish I hadn’t responded to either question, but had simply said “I never justify my attendance – I may come to court as part of my job, and so I do.”

Another thing judges – and counsel – have asked me, which can also be tricky:

“What are you wanting to write about this case?”

I do not have to explain to anyone, before I’m allowed to attend, that I intend to publish anything that I may lawfully report without permission, much less what I intend to write about.

Further, once I’ve attended a hearing,  the fact that I have published something should not be any reason for criticism – whether implied, as per Wednesday’s skirmish – or explicit, unless someone is saying that what I have done is unlawful.

So, to sum up;

Don’t ask me what I’m doing in court.

Don’t ask me how I found out about the case.

Don’t ask me – or assume that you know – what I’m going to write.

And don’t raise my reporting with the judge unless you are going to argue I’ve done something wrong.

Or – as neutrally as I possibly can (and this will be a stretch, given the indignation that will be surging inside me) – I am going to have to push back.






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