ONE of the many frequent difficult conversations I have as editor of a local newspaper is with people who have appeared in a criminal court.

They (or their relatives or loved ones) are often angry that their name, address and details of their offences have been published.

Sometimes their tone is accusatory. They say the only reason the Hereford Times runs such reports is to sell newspapers or get clicks on its website.

There is, admittedly, some truth in that. We publish things that people want to read, because if we did not we would be irrelevant and out of business… something many law-breakers would no doubt welcome.

And like most people we are relieved to see those responsible for causing great harm punished.

But we do not revel in the appearance of people before magistrates or judges. We recognise that human frailties, poverty and environment are the root causes of most crime, and that it damages the society in which we all live.

We would prefer a world in which we reported fewer cases from the courts, not more.

Nevertheless, we passionately believe in one of the most basic principles of British justice – that should be seen to be done.

Without our reporting very few people in Herefordshire could see that accused people are being given a fair hearing, adequate punishment for their crimes, or a chance to reform and make amends.

In Herefordshire Magistrates Court, in particular, we are sometimes the only witness to what goes on, apart from court officials and those actively involved in the proceedings.

Journalists are generally allowed to report anything which is said or given as evidence in court. They do not have to check whether the evidence given is true, but must report correctly what was said as evidence.

It is important that we publish details such as addresses because it helps identify people so readers do not confuse them with someone with the same name.

The Hereford Times will often publish pictures of people involved in a court case to help readers to identify these people. Police often give us photographs for this reason.

Although we are free to choose the cases we cover according to how much interest we think there will be, in practice we cover as many cases as we can when the court is in session.

We are not able to grant requests that we should not publish reports because the defendant is in some way vulnerable, or not responsible for their own actions because of illness. Those are issues for the criminal justice system to rule on, not journalists.

Neither are we able to, or legally obliged to, remove historic reports of court cases from our website. They form an important record in the same way as printed newspapers. People may, though, explore Google's right-to-be forgotten procedure, which if certain conditions were met would remove the search engine's links to a report.

  • If you want more information about how newspapers report the courts visit the Independent Press Standards Organisation at www.ipso.co.uk