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Restrictions of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 (includes new regulations)

By David Banks

Reviewed October 2016

Legal restrictions are in place in cases that appear in magistrates court, but will be tried at a later date in front of a jury at Crown Court.

The restrictions on these reports used to be the so-called ’10 points’ of Section 8 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980, which governed reports of committals for trial from magistrates court.

Court procedures have now been changed and defendants are no longer committed from magistrates court. Instead, they may appear at magistrates court in what is called an allocation or a mode of trial hearing.

So, the law on the restrictions has now been changed to reflect this and they are now imposed by Section 52A of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

This says that a report of one of these hearings will be restricted to the following information:

  1. The identity of the court and the name of the justice or justices;
  2. The name, age, home address and occupation of the accused;
  3. In the case of an accused charged with a ‘serious or complex’ fraud, any ‘relevant business’ information;
  4. The offence or offences, or a summary of them, with which the accused is or are charged;
  5. The names of counsel and solicitors engaged in the proceedings;
  6. Where the proceedings are adjourned, the date and place to which they are adjourned;
  7. The arrangements as to bail;
  8. Whether legal aid was granted.

These restrictions are designed to prevent a trial being prejudiced by publication of information that comes out at an earlier hearing in magistrates court.

The question a journalist dealing with this must answer is whether the hearing is bound by these restrictions, and to answer this you need to know whether it will end up before a jury.

If it is a summary offence it is only triable by magistrates, therefore there is no jury to be prejudiced by details, so the restrictions do not apply.

On the other hand, if the case is indictable-only then the case must be tried at Crown Court and the restrictions do apply (unless the defendant enters a very early guilty plea, in which case restrictions end)

For either-way, or hybrid, cases, the restrictions are in place unless and until the defendant chooses trial by magistrates.

The restrictions, though seemingly strict, have been interpreted as allowing for some description of court scenes – what the defendant wore, description of the courtroom surroundings etc.

Penalties

This is a statutory offence, and is usually punished by a fine at magistrates court of up to £5,000.

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Written by David Banks, Media Law Consultant and Trainer. David runs the Law, Ethics and Copyright workshops for NUJ Training Wales.

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