Alfred Baker.

Pitman's practical journalism; an introduction to every description of literary effort in association with newspaper production online

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more frequently, receive considerable attention from the
local Press. At these courts, the trial of prisoners for the
graver offences against the law, and the hearing of civil
actions of an important character, take place. The time
has passed when the Assizes were attended with a display
of pageantry which enlivened the drab streets of the sleepy
county towns with a spectacle of Tudor costumes, javelins,
and trumpeters. But if the display is now quieter in colour,
the majesty of the law is not less impressive in this
twentieth century. The young reporter, who is attending
the Assizes for the first time, should, if his duties permit,
witness the whole of the public ceremonial.



52 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

The proceedings at the Assizes begin with the arrival of
the Judge or Judges. The High Sheriff meets these august
personages at the railway station, and conducts them in his
carriage, with an escort of police, to the court house, where
the Commission of Assize is opened. The ceremony is quite
formal ; everyone stands up in court to listen to the reading
of His Majesty's Commission to the Judges, whose names
are mentioned, to administer justice in the name of the King.
The ceremony is gone through with a seriousness which
befits the occasion, and the reporter must be careful not to
exhibit any disrespect in the presence of the Judges, who
maintain the dignity of their office on Assize in a most
impressive fashion. The ceremony is very brief, and the
Judges then proceed in state to the cathedral or principal
church in the town to attend divine service. The sermon
is delivered by the Sheriff's Chaplain, and, if it should
happen that he is a preacher of distinction, the newspaper
will give an adequate report of the sermon. But, generally,
a short summary suffices.

The Grown Court.

The business of the Crown Court usually begins some
hours after the arrival of the Judges, or it may be on the
following morning. The court-house then presents a busy
scene. Some time before the Judges arrive, the witnesses
and jurymen, who have been summoned to attend, and a
number of barristers, solicitors, and officials put in an appear-
ance ; and more important even than these, the prisoners
for trial, are brought to the place under safe escort from the
county gaol. The portions of the court allotted to the
public are usually well filled. The accommodation for the
Press is not always of the most convenient description, but
usually reporters are so placed that they can hear well.
It is a common arrangement to have the seats for the Press
below, or near to, the jury box.

From the moment the Judge enters the court, the reporter
cannot fail to be impressed with tjie humanity and fairness



LEGAL REPORTING 53

with which the trial of prisoners is conducted. The first
procedure is the swearing-in of the Grand Jury, which is
selected from among the men of position in the county or
city. The list of the Grand Jury is given in the newspapers,
and the reporter will find little difficulty in making a list
of the foreman and his colleagues, as their names are read
out by the Clerk of Assize. The function of the Grand Jury
is to investigate the evidence which has been given before
the magistrates, in order to ascertain if it is sufficient to
warrant a prisoner being put on his trial. To guide them,
the Judge delivers a charge to the Grand Jury, in which he
calls their attention to such points as appear desirable, and
they are dismissed to their duties. The charge is reported
at some length in the newspapers, but the members of the
Bar are absent from court during its delivery. The Grand
Jury sit in private, and begin by investigating some com-
paratively simple case, so that in a few minutes an official
of the court presents their decision to the Judge. They
have found a " True Bill " against some particular prisoner,
and the trials now begin. From time to time during the
day's proceedings, the cry of " Grand Jury " is heard in
court, and public announcement is made of their findings.
The reporter will have obtained, immediately on his arrival,
a printed copy of the calendar of prisoners from the governor
of the prison, and he should write upon it the decisions of
the Grand Jury as they are announced. In the majority
of cases, a " True Bill " will be returned, and the individual
concerned will, in due course, stand his trial. But all the
trials will not take place in one day, and, therefore, if the
reporter is working for a morning or evening newspaper,
he should conclude his report with a statement that " True
Bills " had been returned against those prisoners who had
not been actually tried. He should, of course, also report
any arrangements made for fixing the date or time of
particular trials. There is one other finding of the Grand
Jury which should on no account be neglected ; we refer
to the occasions on which they find " No Bill " against a



04 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

prisoner. In these instances, the accused is not put on his
trial, but is at once a free man. Occasionally on some ques-
tion of public importance, the Grand Jury make a present-
ment. This is in the form of a resolution, and is brought
into court personally by the Grand Jury. Its terms should
be exactly recorded by the reporter, who should be equally
careful in reporting observations of the Judge concerning it.

Procedure at a Criminal Trial.

As soon as the first " True Bill " is found, the prisoner
concerned is placed in the dock, and the counsel engaged
in the case, who have heard nothing of what the Judge has
said about it, take their places, and a Common Jury is sworn
in to try the case. While these proceedings are going on,
the reporter will have started his report of the case by tran-
scribing from his calendar the name of the prisoner and the
offences for which he is indicted. He should remember
that the word just used is the proper legal term to employ,
while " charged " represents more accurately the position
in the police court. The indictment is read to the prisoner,
who usually returns the plea of " Not Guilty " ; but, except
in very important trials, where the prisoner pleads " Guilty "
to some counts of the indictment and " Not Guilty " to
others, this formality does not call for notice in the report.
The names, however, of the counsel, for the prosecution and
for the prisoner respectively, should be given in the
introductory paragraph of the report.

The case is opened by the counsel for the Crown, all
offences being regarded as committed against the King.
The speech will give an outline of what is alleged against the
prisoner, and it will be reported at greater or less length,
according to the importance of the case. From this point,
the reporter should devote himself to giving, within the
limits of space at his disposal, a fair statement of the entire
trial. He will find that counsel's opening speech may con-
tain statements which are not borne out by the evidence of
witnesses, and he should be careful to omit such passages



LEGAL REPORTING 55

from his report. The evidence of the witnesses is usually
written out in longhand, in the third person, as the case
proceeds. Some of the testimony is important from the
point of view of the newspaper report, while a good many
witnesses tell stories which merely support the leading wit-
ness ; it is usual simply to mention the names of such wit-
nesses, and to say that they " corroborated." Care should
be taken to indicate the testimony elicited in reply to the
counsel on the other side ; this is usually prefaced with the

statement : " Cross-examined by Mr. ; witness said,

etc." The speech of the counsel for the defence must be
given suitable space, and the statements of the prisoner
himself (if he enters the witness-box) need to be carefully
reported, and also any expressions of opinion by the Judge
in reviewing the evidence in summing up to the jury. Unless
a trial is reported verbatim, or nearly so, the reporter will
find it quite possible to complete his longhand report by the
time the jury have retired to consider their verdict. There
are many necessary formalities during a trial which give the
reporter ample time to complete his report. When the jury
return with their verdict, this will be followed, if unfavour-
able to the prisoner, by a statement, which can be now given
without prejudice to the trial just concluded, of any previous
convictions. When he has added these particulars and the
sentence, and described anything incidental, the reporter will
be ready to take up the work of reporting the next case. But
here we may pause to mention, incidentally, the fact that,
under the law relating to criminal appeal, a complete shorthand
note of all that is said, and of evidence given at every Assize
trial, is recorded by an official note-taker, who follows the
circuit of the Judge another illustration of the extreme
care taken to prevent miscarriage of justice.

The Nisi Prius Court.

While the Crown Court is sitting for the trials of prisoners,
as described above, another Judge will be presiding in the
Nisi Prius Court for the trial of civil actions. The cases



56 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

to be heard are very briefly indicated on a Cause List, of
which the reporter will be able to secure a copy. It will,
however, furnish him with no more information than the
names of the plaintiffs and defendants, with an indication
of the order in which the cases will come before the court.
When the case has been called and the jury sworn, counsel
for the plaintiff give particulars to the court of the nature
of the action, and state generally the kind of evidence which
will be called in support of it. At a later stage of the pro-
ceedings, counsel for the defendant will follow on similar
lines. Work in the Nisi Prius Court is more difficult for the
beginner than reporting in the Crown Court, and therefore
none but reporters with a fair experience of legal proceedings
should be entrusted with it. If the young reporter has spare
time at his disposal, he would be well advised to attend the
sittings and study the published reports thereon of his seniors'.
Civil actions tried in this court have to be made clear to the
jury, and no reporter should possess less intelligence than
the gentlemen in the box. But sometimes the course of an
action is materially altered as the result of some legal point
submitted to the Judge, and, if in doubt, the reporter should
seek the assistance of one of the barristers interested, who
will give the information with that courtesy which the Bar
always manifests towards the Press. The evidence is
reported in civil actions on very similar lines to those followed
in the Criminal Court, and the summing up of the Judge
to the jury is usually reported more or less fully, according
to the importance of the case from the newspaper reader's
point of view.

Quarter Sessions.

Courts of Quarter Sessions, for the trial of prisoners
indicted for a variety of misdemeanours of a less serious
character than those brought before the Judges at Assizes,
are held, as their title indicates, four times a year. The
procedure is exactly similar to that followed at Assizes,
except that the head of the tribunal is the Recorder of a



LEGAL REPORTING 57

borough, who is a barrister-at-law ; or the Chairman of
Quarter Sessions, a gentleman of position, who has had a
legal training. In addition to the trials before the court
and jury, appeals against decisions of the justices, sitting
in the police courts, are heard at Quarter Sessions. As the
entire proceedings take place with the assistance of the Bar,
the reporter will find them usually straightforward and
fairly simple.

Under the Criminal Appeal Act, an official shorthand
writer is appointed to take a complete note of all the trials
at Quarter Sessions, as in the case of Assize trials. The
appointments are given to reporters of the Press, or to
shorthand clerks and others who possess the needful skill.

County Courts.

There are, throughout the country, minor tribunals, pre-
sided over by a Judge, which are held in nearly every town,
for the settlement of actions, for the trial of disputed claims,
and the recovery of small debts. The Judges also adjudicate
on matters relating to the administration of certain statutes,
of which that dealing with workmen's compensation may be
cited as an example. These courts are usually designated
County Courts, but some ancient corporate towns have
similar courts, which were created under Royal Charters,
long before County Courts came into existence.

Unless he has had a legal training, the young reporter will
find the reporting of County Courts by no means easy.
The larger daily papers, it is true, devote but little space
to such reports, and notice only cases of exceptional public
interest ; but most weekly papers deal rather fully with
the proceedings at the County Courts, and the reporter
usually spends a day or two every month in the court of
His Honour Judge - . Sometimes an entire day may be
taken up in listening to a number of small claims and counter
claims, the total amount involved often representing a quite
inconsiderable sum ; but these disputes have engaged the
attention of Judge, solicitors who usually practise in these

5 (1600)



58 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

courts and a small army of witnesses, and the reporter who
is new to the work can hardly fail to be astonished at the
acumen of the Judge in arriving at a just decision amid
so much rank perjury on the part of the witnesses and such
a considerable amount of legal ingenuity on behalf of their
clients exhibited by the solicitors who appear. A few of
the cases are heard with a jury, but in most instances His
Honour decides on the evidence presented, as well as on the
legal points involved. A good many applications come
before the court, and are dealt with in an almost informal
way by the Judge. He has perused beforehand the papers
relating to the matter, and time is saved by a brief intimation
of his decision to the legal representatives concerned. The
reporter would be hopelessly at sea in attempting to report
such a proceeding, because if he transcribed all that he
actually heard, the public would derive no intelligible idea
of what the matter was about. He must also not forget
that he has no authority to publish anything which he does
not actually hear in court. In such a case as we have just
mentioned, his best course will be to obtain, from the chief
clerk to the Registrar or from the solicitors concerned, a
short statement of the nature of the application, as an intro-
duction to the decision of His Honour, of which he will have
taken a note.

Bankruptcy Courts.

Proceedings under the Bankruptcy law take place through-
out England in association with the County Courts. The
first intimation of a bankruptcy reaches the Press through
the publication, in the London Gazette, of the fact that
Receiving Orders have been made in the case of persons
whose names, addresses, and occupations are fully set forth.
Daily newspapers usually have the information, as to local
bankruptcies, wired direct to them on the issue of the
Gazette in London, but the conductors of weekly news-
papers consult the reprint of the full list in The Times.
When a bankruptcy has occurred, the reporter should make



LEGAL REPORTING 59

inquiry at the office of the Official Receiver as to the date
and hour of the statutory first meeting of creditors, over
which the official just mentioned will preside, and submit
a statement of the debtor's financial position. The public
examination of the debtor will be held subsequently at a
court fixed for a particular date, and presided over by the
Count}/ 1 Court Registrar. Many of the bankruptcy cases are
of very slight public importance, while others deal with the
financial difficulties of important individuals or firms. Some-
times the reports of such examinations will extend to no more
than a paragraph ; in other cases, a long report of what the
debtor said will be expected by the public. Special care is
needed in preparing reports of the public examinations in
bankruptcy, from the fact that the debtors are either ignorant
concerning their liabilities, or are ready to throw the blame
for their insolvency upon others. In important cases, both
the debtor and the principal parties concerned are repre-
sented at the public examination, and any statements the
debtor may make relative to the clients of the latter will
form the subject of their questions ; but should allegations
be made against persons not represented, the reporter should
take care that he publishes nothing which appears to be
of a doubtful character, about third parties.

Official Note-taking.

In many parts of the country, where professional shorthand
writers do not practise, newspaper reporters have an oppor-
tunity of acting as official shorthand writers to the Bank-
ruptcy Court. To a good verbatim note-taker, and one who
has sufficient time to attend to the requirements of the Court,
such work is attractive on account of the remuneration it
brings. The note-taker is duly sworn by the Registrar, to
give a true and faithful record of the questions and answers
put and given during the inquiry. The debtor is usually
first examined by the Official Receiver, and afterwards by
solicitors representing particular creditors or groups of
creditors. All that is uttered must be recorded with absolute



60 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

fullness and literal accuracy, and thus transcribed. A very
short experience of insolvent debtors will impress on the
official shorthand writer the fact that they do not usually
answer frankly and fully the interrogatories addressed to
them. In many cases, they either have not kept proper
accounts, or have, in some mysterious way, got rid of docu-
mentary evidence which would assist the Court. In a few
instances, they are disposed to question the accuracy of the
shorthand writer's transcript of their statements, which they
are required to sign. If this should happen, the official note-
taker should appeal to the Registrar for his decision on the
disputed transcript, if the point at issue is of material
importance. Minor corrections by the debtor can, of course,
be treated in accordance with their character. The official
shorthand writer is expected to furnish the Court with a type-
written transcript of his notes, and a few hints to those who
take up this work for the first time may not be out of place.
The official note-taker should be careful to ascertain pre-
cisely on what size of paper his transcript should be made,
and he should also get from the office of the Registrar the
particular form of introduction and termination to be
used in connection with the questions and answers. The
following is a specimen of the kind of form used

In the County Court of Holden at

In Bankruptcy No Qf 1Q __

Re (name and address.)

Public Examination of the Debtor.

Before Mr. Registrar at the Court of

this day of 19

The above named debtor being sworn and examined at the time and
place above-mentioned upon the several questions following being put
and propounded to him gave the several answers thereto respectively
following each question, that is to say

Examined by the Official Receiver.

A.
These are the notes of the public examination referred to in the memo.

of public examination of taken before me this day

of 19,,,,.

Registrar.



LEGAL REPORTING 61

It should be the endeavour of the official shorthand writer
to hand in his transcript at the office of the Registrar, for
placing on the file, at the earliest possible time after the
close of the proceedings. The public examination may be
adjourned, and before the debtor makes his appearance
again, the transcript will be carefully perused by the officials
of the court and others. Certain bankruptcy stamps have
to be affixed to the transcript and also to the allocate (the
document in which the shorthand writer sets forth his
charges), and these details should be attended to personally
by him.

In some Bankruptcy Courts, the private examination of
the debtor is taken by an official shorthand writer, and this
involves, of course, a much more considerable amount of
note-taking and transcription than in the case of the public
examination described above.

Courts-Martial.

Journalists who carry on their practice in military centres
or naval ports gain an experience of the proceedings at
courts-martial. The procedure at these courts differs materi-
ally from that followed in the courts established for dealing
with civil delinquents. Where the inquiries involve the
hearing of a considerable amount of evidence, time is saved
by the employment of a service shorthand writer, but there
is usually a large amount of routine observed : so that the
reporter can, in most cases, write a fairly full longhand report
during the sitting of the court. There is, however, a certain
amount of inconvenience to the reporter resultant from
service methods. The room in which the inquiry is held is
kept empty until the members of the court have arrived
and taken their seats, after which, the reporters, along with
the public, are permitted to enter. The accused has the
assistance of a legal " friend," while what may be termed the
prosecution is conducted by a service officer. On every
point submitted to the court, the officers forming it consult
and decide, and, as they consult without leaving the room,



62 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

the court is cleared of everybody, until they have arrived
at their decision. Such interruptions to the reporter's work
may occur several times during a sitting. Many years ago,
when naval courts-martial were held aboard one of the old
" wooden walls " moored in a western port, the reporters,
it is said, made application to the naval officers in court-
martial assembled, for leave to have a little more accom-
modation in the shape of tables and seats. The room was
promptly cleared in order that the court might consider and
decide on the application ! There is a minor description of
courts-martial usually held before a single military officer,
and resembling in general a police-court inquiry. The
reporter, if he does not attend these, can obtain the needful
particulars for a brief report from the orderly-room clerks.



CHAPTER X

REPORTING LOCAL AUTHORITIES

ALL journalists who are engaged in reporting work, except
those employed on the staffs of the great London daily
newspapers, find that the duty of attending the meetings of
bodies responsible for local government in both town and
country, makes a considerable demand on their time. And
it is obvious, even to the casual newspaper reader, that
reports of Council meetings occupy a large proportion of
the space in all local newspapers. The young journalist
will very soon discover that, although newspaper readers
are not always keenly interested in the course of Imperial
politics, they never cease to take a very alert interest in
the proceedings of the body they have elected to fulfil the
functions of local government. There are two very simple
reasons for this : The first is that the health, the comfort,
and even the amusements of the city, town, or village, are
largely under the control of the local authority ; and the
second, that the judicious expenditure of the funds obtained
from the ratepayers is a legitimate subject of watchful
criticism.

County, District, and Parish Councils.

The reform and extension of local government which has
been brought about within the last quarter of a century in
England has, unquestionably, largely increased the work
of newspaper reporters. Before that period, local govern-
ment was represented in the towns by the Councils, and in
the country by the Quarter Sessions, with various authorities
created under different Acts of Parliament, and conducting
the administration on what, for want of a better term, has
been called the ad hoc principle. But from the passing of
the Local Government Act of 1888, there has been a trans-
formation in local administrative bodies, so that the whole

63



64 PRACTICAL JOURNALISM

of England is covered by County Councils, Urban and Rural
District, Borough, and Parish Councils. These respective
bodies have not only had extensive powers conferred on
them by Acts of Parliament, but have also absorbed older
bodies, which were concerned in road maintenance, ceme-
teries, elementary and secondary education, and so forth.
English local administration is now so comprehensive, that
it provides a parish meeting at which any " village Hampden "


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Online LibraryAlfred BakerPitman's practical journalism; an introduction to every description of literary effort in association with newspaper production → online text (page 5 of 14)