Why things might be about to get better in the journalistic fight for open justice

Heather Rogers QC, a leading specialist in media and information law at Doughty Street Chambers, believes a new charter for journalists will make them more essential to the court process

Journalists, lawyers and educators celebrated a united “fight for open justice” at the launch event for McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists.

Affectionately known simply as McNae’s and dubbed “a bible for journalists”, the publication of the 26th edition was celebrated last night at an industry reception at Doughty Street Chambers in London.

Those in attendance at the event, which was supported by Oxford University Press, included authors Mark Hanna and Sian Harrison, plus journalists, employers, lawyers and journalism trainers.

The latest edition is Mark Hanna’s seventh as co-author of McNae’s, and Sian is welcomed this year for her first edition.

Mark and Sian

Sian is the law editor of PA Media and completed her NCTJ training at Cardiff University. She is an experienced journalist and court reporter and has been based in the Royal Courts of Justice since 2010.

Both authors paid thanks to former author Mike Dodd, who retired in 2020 after working alongside Mark on five editions.

Speaking at the event, Sian said: “It has been an incredible journey to work on this. I was delighted that Mike Dodd even suggested it.

“Knowing what you can and can’t do is fundamental to the job of a journalist and is fundamental to democracy.

“The court reporting fraternity is like a family. We feel like the last line of defence sometimes.

“With McNae’s we are upholding Mike’s tradition of fighting for open justice. It’s important for what we all do and is part of our democracy. Long may it live.”

Joanne Butcher

Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, also paid tribute to former author Mike Dodd at the reception.

She said: “Mike worked with Mark on five editions of the book, and together, they made a formidable partnership.

“Editing McNae’s is a huge responsibility and a great deal of work. We are enormously grateful for Mike’s brilliant work.”

Heather Rogers QC, a leading specialist in media and information law at Doughty Street Chambers, gave the keynote address and spoke about the changing nature of open justice.

She said: “There has been a sea change of transparency. The courts and prosecution authorities have worked with journalists on access to documents and reporting restrictions.

“There is now a Reporters’ Charter, published in May 2022, setting out the rights of journalists.

“The intervention of a journalist is no longer seen as a pesky interference, it’s an important part of the process.

“There has been some progress in a forward direction but there is still more to be done.

“And there is much to celebrate. Freedom of expression exists and is thriving. Serious journalism is taking place with a view to getting to the truth. Good journalism reminds us that truth matters.

“It’s a good thing that the right to impart information and ideas is alive. The new edition of McNae’s will be a huge practical help in this fight.”

In her speech, Heather also welcomed the recently announced anti-Slapp (strategic lawsuits against public participation) reforms, a government measure which aims to stop the rich and powerful from using the courts to silence journalists with expensive lawsuits.

Mark and Sian shared some of the newest components of the latest edition, which includes new content discussing the emerging importance of media organisations’ legal liability for readers’ postings.

It also features new seminal cases covering copyright, defamation and privacy law, including cases brought by Johnny Depp and Meghan Markle.

They thanked the lawyers who helped with the latest edition, as well as publishers Oxford University Press and the NCTJ.

The 26th edition of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists can be purchased here for the discounted price of £25.99 (RRP £27.99).

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