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Say nothing rather than something

Should judges express their opinion?

The answer is yes, but appropriately.

Adrian Hardiman, a member of the Supreme Court expressed his opinion of Irish legal reporters recently (script seen HERE), and was attacked by, inter alia, the NUJ, HERE. (No comments, please on my use of latin [“inter alia”]).

In fact a court reporter has a very difficult job. The newspaper owner and the editor are very anxious to report what happens in court; any fair and accurate report is privileged and they are relieved of the phenomenal effort and anxiety required to prove the fact or facts of the proceedings.

However, the method of exposition in a court is not conducive to making clear what is actually happening in a case. Often, the case is developed through a series of motions and there may be considerable time lapses between the hearing of the motions. Even in a trial the “opening” by counsel may not reflect the actual events which take place in the trial. Proper “fair and accurate” reporting ought not to be a “quick and dirty” operation but the reporter may have no alternative to adopting that as a solution.

It is an open secret that court reporters are assisted by the legal practitioners. They are frequently furnished with a copy of the pleadings. These will contain some essential facts, at least. However, the reporter needs to know that what is pleaded may not necessarily be supported by evidence at the trial.

This relationship is fraught; the reporter should know that legal practitioners are seldom without an agenda of their own. That agenda will be more or less benign depending on the circumstances.

Equally, for a reporter to produce the kind of report that will please a judge is not necessarily a good thing; many judgments are overturned on appeal, sometimes because the judge’s conclusions were not supported by the evidence. Some judges are better than others (to put it mildly).

Consequently, a reporter should not look for the “core” of his or her report in the pleadings or in the characterisation of the case by counsel or in some diatribe by the judge (unless he or she is working for a “red-top”; then, always go for the diatribe).