Science, People & Politics. ISSN: 1751598x. Issue 3 (July – Sept.) 2021.
TOPICAL COMMENT ||
PRESS NEED TO BE IN THE COURT BUILDING AND COURT ROOM, AND NOT ON VIDEO LINK
By Helen Gavaghan
Three and a half years after admitting to police he was guilty of production, possession and supply of a small quantity of cannabis, Mr David Dower (66) was today
sentenced by Mr Recorder Tariq Khan QC to an 18-month community order and 30 days of rehabilitation activity. The case was held at Crown Court, sitting in
Bradford. Ordinarily such an offence would have been dealt with by magistrates, but this case took longer because of an issue related to the basis of Mr
Mr Recorder Khan additionally issued a confiscation order for £1000 (one thousand) which police had found in Mr Dower's possession. The judge accepted Mr Dower
was not running a profit-making enterprise.
In the next door Court a trial involving seven defendants was taking place, and Covid restrictions limited the numbers allowed in the Court. Initially I was
allowed in the Court, and told I could stay if there was space. In the event, I ceded my place to one of the solicitors. I passed by the defendants as I left
the Court, and the usher provided me with access details for following the trial remotely.
Before leaving Court I was present as the judge heard a case brought by West Yorkshire Probation Service. That defendant escaped prison because he had begun
to demonstrate compliance with the terms of his suspended sentence.
On arrival at the Combined Court in Bradford, I was asked if I was well, or had Covid symptoms. I had my NHS App with me to demonstrate my vaccination status, but
it was not needed. My bags were searched in the usual way by guards wearing protective gloves. The guard handed me my hand gel, and asked me to put some on. I
asked what the Court's policy with repect to masks was, and I was told it was up to me. Next I asked if access to the press room was the same, and the guard went
to check whether the press room was still sealed. I was told I could go to the press room. Access was as usual, despite the sign saying, "no access". On the way
up the stairs there was a sign requesting visitors to wear masks. The public area had open windows, so it felt safe to take off the mask with people no closer
than a meter to me.
Within the Court holding a multi-person trial I sat briefly in the press box during the Court's preceding business. There were two instead of four seats, and
these were separated by perspex barriers. Only four of the seats in the public gallery were accessible, and most of these were taken by legal staff. Perspex
barriers separated the defendants, the barristers, and were in the jury box.
Though the public area outside the Courts was well ventilated with open windows, the Court room itself felt less so, but I was told by Court staff the space is
air conditioned and subject to formal risk assessment. The windows behind the jury cannot be opened because of noise.
When I left Court, a solicitor for one of the defendants took my place. I sat outside among defendants, and their family, and others. Police, barristers,
solicitors and Court staff milled around as usual, though there was a notable absence of members of the Court's chaplaincy service.
I went and chatted with defendants, and others in the public area, paying due attention to the law preventing me from asking questions of witnesses in the
middle of giving evidence, and being sure to do nothing to prevent a fair trial. Throughout I took care to display my press badge.
Pre-publication online at 15.15 BST on 16.09. 2021 as https://www.sciencepeopleandpolitics.com/crown_court.html.
This item will appear in the KINDLE edition of Issue 3 (July-Sept.) 2021 of Science, People & Politics.