Mackay issues media warning

Judges are being advised to pre-empt adverse media coverage by issuing press releases before they make controversial decisions.

In a letter to all judges, Lord Mackay said he was concerned about the standard of some press reporting of judicial decisions.

He said in the letter that he had contacted the Press Complaints Commission saying he felt it was “unfair to the individual judge concerned, as well as to the public's perception of the judiciary as a whole, if criticism by the media is based not on the facts as laid before the judge but on a markedly different account of the situation”.

But he stressed that he thought it was important for journalists to comment on the actions of judges “on the basis of what the judge actually said in court”, adding: “I am anxious to do what I can to help journalists in this area.”

In magistrates courts, justices' clerks have for some time been advising the magistrates to explain any controversial decisions to the press and to victims.

Kevin McCormac, chair of the professional purposes committee at the Justices' Clerks Society, said: “We have certainly had experiences where people have left the courtroom being surprised at the decision and not understanding the decision – although there was an acceptable reason for it – because it was not explained to them.”