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Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Association. Volume 40, Number 3. March 14, 1977.

From the Courts

page 5

From the Courts

Courts image

The hallowed institution of Court reporting is supposedly the practial application of legal theories concerning the openness of court proceedings. "Justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done".

However one tends to suspect that the gutter press, and even some of the more responsible dailies, use their Court Reports as an excuse to indulge in sensationalism. The screaming headlines preceding some reports are not exactly noted for their accuracy, but do guarantee a juicy story of sex and/or violence that panders to the baser facets of human curiosity.

Critics of this less constructive type of reporting claim the actual incidence of reporting offences tend to be very hit and miss. The chances of an offender actually having his name printed are similar to those of winning a minor lottery. Social commentators decry the implications of unbalanced sensational reports giving a false indication of the actual incidence of crime. The result is to convince the public that we live in a violent society. This impression is further exploited by groups (politicions, police etc.) to further their own ends through "Law and Order" planks.

Accuracy in reporting and a better representation of court material would overcome the biased and inaccurate picture of society being presented through the newspapers. By practicing responsible journalism rather than sensation seeking, our press can play a vital role in the administration of justice.

However the lottery problem remains wherever minor offences are reported. Last year in Lower Hutt Mr J. Patterson S.M. heard two particular cases on the same day. The first was a schoolboy charged with failing to give way. A moment of carelessness at an intersection resulted in a minor accident; there was no question of drink or dangerous driving. His Worship dispensed a lecture part of which ran — that corner is known as 'death corner', the most dangerous in the city. Perhaps next time you will be more careful.

The second man was charged with driving under the influence. 360ml per 100ml. "Congratulations", his worship announced. "Medical experts inform me that you should have died about 140ml ago. Only your health and physique saved you. You were so drunk that had you fallen you could not stand up again, and would have to crawl in the gutter." One traffic officer remarked later that even he thought the lecture had been a bit strong. But it would seem that the press had heard it before.

What was new was death comer. So [unclear: o] a young schoolboy had his name appear in print while a more serious offender did not. What decided the priority of reporting was not some standard of deserving punishment or the right of the public to be informed, but rather an unfortunate chance remark from the bench.

— O. O'Leary.