The Academy of Justice’s Discussion on the interaction of courts and journalists

On June 16th in the North-West Branch of the Russian Academy of Justice held a seminar on “Legislative Frameworks and Technological Cooperation between Courts with the Media and Journalists.” The seminar was attended by press secretaries and presidents of the court, citizens of Russia, journalists, third sector representatives (NGOs) and other experts.

The seminar was held under the “Transparency of the Courts as a way to guarantee the Constitutional Right of Citizens to Access Information.” The project and collaboration of research between the courts and media was presented by the project’s supervisor, Sergei Chizhkov, the Executive Director of the Guild of Court Reporters.

A consultant from the Pushkin district court of St. Petersburg, Darya Lebedeva, presented a training course for employees of the district courts serving as press secretaries. Participants found the course to be quite interesting.

The event was attended by a Professor of German and International Commercial and Media Rights of the Cologne School of Business, Ralph Hecker, also the Scientific Director of the Cologne Institute for Communications Law and Internet. Professor Hecker delivered a report on the courts and the media in Germany, which greatly illuminated the German experience. In particular, German courts do not have press secretaries. Rather, this duty falls upon judges, who intern carryout this function.

Representatives of Saratov, Arkhangelsk, Novgorod, Perm, Kaliningrad, and Pskov region courts shared their experiences working in public relations. The representatives talked in detail about the legislative constraints that should guide a press secretary when providing information, based on the need to protect personal information.

Elena Manachina, press secretary for the Kaliningrad Regional Court, asserted that press secretaries should only provide a sentence. The rest should be the work for journalists: to go to the court and to take comments from participants. Additionally, the archives may hold evidence which was not investigated by the courts. Revealing all of the evidence to journalists may distort the course, the process, and the objectivity of the case. Therefore, press secretaries should refrain from providing all case details to journalists. According to the press secretary of the Pskov Regional Court, Julia Pron, the success of the press service of the courts depends on a proactive press secretary. Pron also spoke about her experience collaborating with the editorial office of the Pskov region.

The press officer of the Office of Drug Control Services of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad region, Ekaterina Kolesnikova, provided a unique perspective to interacting with the media. Kolesnikova also discussed the problems hindering interaction with the court press offices, in particular the difficulties her department has experienced while trying to conduct surveys at hearings.

The last speaker was a legal journalist, Pavel Netupsky. Netupsky reported that according to a study by “Citizens Watch,” only 16 of the 23 district court of St. Petersburg include press-service and only 6 sites listed contact information of press secretaries. The journalist said that the court staff does not include enough information in the publication of judicial decisions, referring to any quotations and numbers of articles of the Civil Code and laws. The meaning of Article 15 of the Federal Law № 262 “On Providing Access to Information about the Courts of the Russian Federation,” the opinion of Netupsky, is not about the protection of personal information and participants in the case of a threat to their security. Rather, in such cases, the court should opt for a closed process. In civil proceedings, ensuring the safety of the participants is not an issue, as all information open to the public is harmless.

The seminar concluded with a discussion, which focused on the principle of publicity versus the right to privacy. Making judgments about what information should be accessible the level of openness of the judicial process, are not one in the same. In the first case, the information may be available to millions, while in the second case the information may only be available to those who attend the trail.

Elena Shakhova recalled a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice, which ordered Google to remove personal data from its search engine, upon request by an individual. Professor Hecker told the participants about a legal precedent established by the Constitutional Court of Germany, which called for the media to remove information from the internet regarding the process and charges of rape cases, after the convict has served his sentence. According to Professor Hecker, everyone should have the right to re-socialization.
At the end of the discussion, Sergei Chizkov spoke about the fact that Russia cannot solve all the problems of legislative prohibitions: ethics and morality should be outside the scope of the law. Chizkov also reminded participants about the codes of professional ethics and the Guild of court reporters.