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July 2019
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Press releases about court stories

Press releases about court stories

Many public authorities, charities and businesses issue press releases, or post stories online, about court cases they have won.

These can be legally dangerous. Here are some safeguards:

1. You should aim to cover the case yourself, rather than pick up information from colleagues etc.
2. Court reports are covered by absolute privilege, which is an IMMUNITY to a libel action, provided:
i. Your report must be fair – give both sides, especially if key allegations are denied.
ii. It should be published straight away.
3. It must be accurate – check name spellings, ages, addresses (don’t give house numbers), job titles, the charge and the plea. If a court case is wrong and appears on your website, or has been published as a press release, you may lose privilege.
4. It may be libellous if you add other material – eg quotes – to the court report. Additional material is not usually privileged.
5. If you don’t cover the case yourself, stick to the bare facts.


There may be strict restrictions on reporting court cases. Court cases should always be covered by someone who is experienced in this field. Mistakes can be costly – they may even be criminal offences.

Three safety-first rules are:

1. Do NOT name under-18s, or use their ages, addresses, schools, colleges, workplaces, or any details that could lead to their ID.
2. CHECK ages of defendants, witnesses etc – they may be under 18. If they are, see 1 above.
3. Do NOT name anyone who claims they have been a victim of ANY sexually-related offence, or use their ages, addresses, schools, colleges, workplaces, or any details that could lead to their ID.
4. CHECK if a defendant faces another trial / case. Reporting ONE trial could prejudice the NEXT one.
Court stories published by public authorities and councils

Court stories published by public authorities, councils and some charities are seen as PRESS RELEASES – and, from the media’s point of view, are covered by qualified privilege.

This means they are protected from libel actions arising from publishing your release – even if it is wrong. You may have included wrong facts or inaccurate quotes.

The media are NOT in any danger here. But they may have to publish a correction / clarification.

Cleland Thom delivers media law training and consultancy to a number of corporation and public authorities, including GPSJ, United Utilities, World Trade Group, Herts County Council, London Borough of Brent and Three Rivers District Council.

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