Chapter 66: Court reporting, a case in practice

This is the third of three chapters on court and legal reporting. In the previous chapters we considered why it is important for court cases to be reported, and how to do it safely and properly. We also looked at how to write reports that are accurate, fair and interesting. In this, the final chapter on court reporting, we follow a legal case through from beginning to end.


What follows is how a case may be reported in the newspapers from the day the crime is committed until the end of the court case. Bear in mind that, for radio or television, your reports would be much briefer than these. [All characters are fictitious.]

NOTE: In some countries, journalists are allowed to report more or less detail at different stages of the process. For example, in some countries you are not allowed to identify the accused until they appear in open court. You should get local professional advice on how restrictions apply in your country.

The crime

It is the afternoon of Tuesday, July 9, and an armed gang in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, has just stolen K60,000 from security men as they carried the money out of a bank to an armoured car. (The Kina is the currency of Papua New Guinea.)

The gang, of four men, fired shots into the air as they rushed the security men, and clubbed one of them to the ground when he resisted. Passers-by were ordered to lie down on the ground. The men grabbed three bags containing the money, in used bank notes, and got away in a waiting car.

Nobody has yet been arrested or charge, so you might report the crime in the next morning's newspaper as follows:

Armed gang steals K60,000

An armed gang got away with K60,000 after a hold-up outside a city centre bank yesterday afternoon.

Four hooded men fired shots into the air and hit a security man over the head before grabbing the cash, which was in three leather bags.

The gang escaped in a waiting car, which was later found abandoned near the causeway to Tatana Island.

The injured security guard, Mr Peter Tom, was taken to Port Moresby General Hospital. He is said to be suffering from concussion and is in a satisfactory condition.

The hold-up happened at 2.45 pm yesterday as security men were carrying the money from Westpac Bank in Douglas Street, Port Moresby, to a waiting armoured car.

"It was all so unexpected," said Mr Hugh Leke, from Marshall Lagoon, who was walking past at the time of the robbery.

"One moment everything was normal and the next there were shots and everything was chaos. I saw some men - I think there were four of them - with hoods over their heads and guns in their hands and they were shouting at the security men and everyone.

"One of them was hitting a security man over the head, because he wouldn't let go of the bag of money he was holding.

"They told everyone to lie down in the road, so I did. It didn't seem a good idea to argue.

"After a few seconds, we heard a squeal of tyres and I looked up to see a car racing away. Lots of people then got up and went to help the injured guard."

Supt John Togula, of Boroko CID, said later: "We are determined to find this vicious and dangerous gang as soon as possible. We have found a car abandoned near the causeway to Tatana Island and we believe it is the car they made their getaway in.

"We would like the public to help us by telling us if they saw some men leaving a white Mazda 626 at that place at about 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, and going to another vehicle."

The manager of Westpac's Douglas Street branch, Mr Bruce Large, said later that he was shocked by what had happened.

"We are very shocked, but we have every confidence in the police to find the men responsible," he said.

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The arrest

Two days later, on Thursday, July 11, the police tell you that they have arrested someone after a car chase and shoot-out, in which three people were shot dead and two policemen wounded.

They give you full details of the chase and the gun battle, and the names of the dead men and the man they have arrested. They say they believe this was the gang responsible for the bank robbery.

You ask whether they expect to charge him soon, and they say that they do not expect to charge him for a day or two. The matter is therefore not sub judice. All the same, we must be careful not to say that this was the gang that robbed Westpac Bank, though we can say there is a connection, if we do it only by stating facts. In the next day's newspaper, therefore, you can run a report as follows:

Three die in gun battle with police

Three men were shot dead and two policemen wounded in a gun battle near Sogeri yesterday.

The three, plus a fourth man who is now in police custody, were in a car which sped away from a police road block at Moitaka.

When police gave chase, the occupants of the car opened fire with shotguns and a rifle, said Supt John Togula, of Boroko CID.

"My men suspected that these were dangerous armed men, and they gave chase," he said. "They willingly risked their own safety to protect the public.

"Even after shots were fired, they continued to give chase all the way to Sogeri, until the car left the road and hit a tree.

"The occupants of the car then got out and again opened fire on the police. Fire was returned, and three men were killed and two police officers received gunshot wounds."

The dead men were named as David Kapul, Wally Muruk and Arthur Kakaruk. No addresses are yet available for the dead men, but it is believed that they all lived at Six Mile.

The wounded policemen are Corporal Jehosephat Garo, of Koki, and Constable William Jimi, of Waigani police barracks. Both men are attached to Boroko CID.

Cpl Garo is in a stable condition in Port Moresby General Hospital. He was shot in the abdomen and had an emergency operation last night to remove the bullet. Const Jimi is in a satisfactory condition with a wound in the thigh.

The man who is under arrest is Joe Mauswara, who is also believed to live at Six Mile. He is under police guard at Port Moresby General Hospital, where he is recovering from injuries which he received in the car crash.

He was recovered unconscious from the driving seat and is believed to have been the driver of the car when it crashed.

Supt Togula is leading the investigation into an armed robbery outside Westpac Bank's Douglas Street branch in Port Moresby on Tuesday, in which K60,000 was stolen and a security guard injured.

The police have since been looking for the gang of four armed men responsible.

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The charges

The next Monday, police tell you that Mauswara had recovered sufficiently from his injuries over the weekend to be questioned by them. He has now been charged with armed robbery in connection with the Westpac Bank hold-up, and with other lesser charges in connection with driving through the police road block and dangerous driving. Police say that he may face further charges.

The case is now sub judice. You can say nothing more about the details of the armed hold-up or the gun battle at Sogeri - that is for the courts to decide on. All you can report in Tuesday's newspaper is the following:

Bank robbery: man charged

A man has been charged with armed robbery in connection with the robbery of K60,000 outside a Port Moresby bank last Tuesday.

Joe Mauswara, aged 28, of Six Mile, who comes from Gulf Province, will appear before Boroko magistrates today.

Mauswara has also been charged with failing to comply with police instructions and with dangerous driving.

Supt John Togula, of Boroko CID, said that Mauswara may face more charges.

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The remand

Next day, Mauswara appears in Boroko District Court. It is a legal requirement that the police cannot just put a person in jail without taking them before a magistrate for remand.

Police tell the magistrate that it will take them more time to complete their investigations and prepare the case against Mauswara. In the meantime, they want him held in custody. The magistrate agrees, and says they must come before the court again in two weeks' time, either to present their case or to explain why they need more time.

In Wednesday's newspaper you can say:

Bank robbery: man held

A Gulf Province man was yesterday remanded in custody, charged with armed robbery of K60,000 outside Westpac Bank, Port Moresby, last Tuesday.

Joe Mauswara, aged 28, of Six Mile, was also charged with failing to comply with police instructions and dangerous driving.

The magistrate, Mrs Edna Sinob, remanded Mauswara in custody until July 30.

The police may require two or more such appearances before they are ready to present their case. Each one should be reported in the same way.

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The committal

Finally, the police are ready to present the evidence which they have against Mauswara, and committal proceedings are held, at Boroko District Court. The lesser charges - of failure to comply with police instructions and dangerous driving - are dropped, but a new charge is brought against Mauswara. He is charged with conspiracy to murder.

Mauswara pleads not guilty to both charges.

Police bring witnesses who describe the hold-up, the switch of vehicles near the Tatana Island causeway, the arrival of Mauswara and his three friends (who were shot dead at Sogeri) at Six Mile with bags of money, the car chase and shoot-out at Sogeri, and the recovery of Mauswara's unconscious body from the car. Mauswara's lawyer says that they do not want to offer any defence at this time. The police also offer evidence that the way the car sped through the police road block, followed by shots, showed that the gang had discussed this beforehand, and that this constituted conspiracy to murder.

The magistrate decides that there is a case to answer on the charge of armed robbery, and sends Mauswara for trial at the National Court. She decides that there is no case to answer on the charge of conspiracy to murder and dismisses that charge.

Mauswara's lawyer applies for bail, on the grounds that his client is innocent until proved guilty and should not be kept in jail. Police say that Mauswara has been convicted eight previous times of armed robbery and should not be allowed out of custody. The magistrate agrees with them and refuses bail.

You may report the proceedings as follows, taking care not to give any details of Mauswara's previous convictions:

Bank robbery: man sent for trial

A 28-year-old man has been sent for trial at the National Court in connection with an armed robbery outside a Port Moresby bank in July.

Joseph Aaron Mauswara, an unemployed man from Gulf Province, who lives at Six Mile in the National Capital District, will face a charge of armed robbery.

He appeared yesterday before Boroko District Court, where he denied the charge.

He also denied a charge of conspiracy to murder. The magistrate, Mrs Edna Sinob, after hearing evidence from six witnesses, ruled that there was no case to answer on the second charge. However, she sent Mauswara for trial at the National Court on the charge that he committed an armed robbery in Douglas Street, Port Moresby, on Tuesday, July 9.

The defence lawyer, Mr Alec Smart, said that he did not wish to present the defence case at this time.

The police prosecutor, Supt Reuben Paul said that he would be offering no evidence in relation to two other charges which had earlier been laid against Mauswara - failure to comply with police instructions and dangerous driving. Those charges were therefore dropped.

An application by Mr Smart for bail was rejected by Mrs Sinob.

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The trial

Some weeks or perhaps months later, Mauswara's case will come before the National Court. His case may last for several days, but for the sake of this example we shall look at the reports of only three days of the trial.

The first day:

On the first day of the trial, the charge is read to the defendant and he pleads not guilty. The prosecution lawyer outlines the case which she will attempt to prove. The defence lawyer outlines the weaknesses which he will attempt to show exist in the prosecution's case, and the case for the defendant which he will attempt to prove. After all that, it is too late in the day to call any witnesses so the judge adjourns the case until the next day.

You may report the day's proceedings as follows:

Court hears of orgy of violence

The National Court heard yesterday of an "orgy of violence" on the streets of Port Moresby.

Prosecution lawyer Ms Therese Loloata told the court how four men had terrorised passers-by in Douglas Street, Port Moresby, on July 9 and brutally beaten a security guard, before getting away with K60,271 in cash.

"We shall show that this orgy of violence on the streets of our capital city was planned and carried out in part by the defendant," she said.

Before the court was Joseph Aaron Mauswara, aged 28, an unemployed man from Gulf Province but living at Six Mile in the National Capital District. He denied the charge of armed robbery.

The case is being heard by Mr Justice Bredman.

Ms Loloata told the court that she intended to call witnesses to prove that Mauswara was one of the four men involved in the armed hold-up, outside Westpac Bank.

She said he had driven a stolen Mazda 626 along the coast road to the Tatana Island causeway, where the gang had abandoned the car and driven away in a waiting Toyota Cressida. He was one of the same four men who had returned later that same day to Six Mile settlement, where they had publicly boasted of what they had done and hosted a big party, she added.

Ms Loloata told the court that Mauswara was one of the same four men who tried to avoid arrest by driving through a police road block and shooting at the police, although it was not suggested that Mauswara himself had actually fired any shots at the police.

Mr Alec Smart, representing Mauswara, said that he would prove that his client was nowhere near Douglas Street at the time of the robbery, and he would also show that the prosecution's identification of Mauswara as one of the gang depended on one person's evidence.

"We shall show that this person's evidence is not reliable, because he has a grudge against the defendant," said Mr Smart. "We shall show that the police have been sadly deceived, and that the defendant is the victim of a terrible plot to have him punished for a crime which he did not commit."

The case continues.

The second day:

On the second day of the trial, the prosecution calls its first witnesses. The first is a Westpac Bank clerk, Mrs Aileen Kokoda. She gives an account of the robbery, which she saw from the door of the bank where she was standing at the time. She is cross-examined by the defence lawyer, who wants to know whether she could see the faces of any of the men who carried out the robbery. She says that they all wore masks and she could not see any faces.

The prosecution calls its second witness, Mr Kali Pukpuk, who was one of the security men involved. He also gives an account of the robbery, including evidence about what he heard the men saying to each other.

He says that one of them called another "Wally", and that he replied calling him "Joe". He is cross-examined by the defence lawyer, who wants to know whether he was frightened by the armed gang. Mr Pukpuk admits that he was.

After Mr Pukpuk has been cross-examined, it is too late in the day to begin with another witness, so the judge adjourns the hearing until next day.

Even though Mrs Kokoda gave her evidence before Mr Pukpuk, you consider that his evidence is more newsworthy, so you report the day's proceedings as follows:

I thought I was going to die, court told

A security guard told yesterday of the day he thought he was going to die.

Mr Kali Pukpuk, a guard with Strongpela Security, was giving evidence on the second day of the trial of Joseph Aaron Mauswara, at the National Court.

Mauswara, aged 28, an unemployed man from Gulf Province living at Six Mile in the National Capital District, has denied the charge of armed robbery outside Westpac Bank in Douglas Street, Port Moresby, on July 9.

Speaking in Pidgin, Mr Pukpuk told the court: "Four men with masks on their heads ran towards me as I came out of the bank, carrying two bags full of money.

"They were shooting guns and shouting. I thought I was going to die.

"One of them tried to grab the bags of money from me, but I just could not let go of them. He shouted to one of the other robbers `Shall I shoot him, Wally?' and the other fellow said `Just get the money, Joe'.

"Then I let go of the bags and the man called Joe grabbed them and shoved me to the ground."

Mr Pukpuk comes from Simbu Province and lives in Morata.

Under cross-examination, Mr Pukpuk admitted that he had been very frightened. But he rejected a suggestion by defence lawyer Mr Alec Smart that he was so frightened he could not see or hear properly.

"I was frightened," he said, "but I know I heard these fellows use the names Wally and Joe."

Earlier, a clerk who works at the Westpac Bank branch outside which the armed robbery took place also gave her account of the hold-up.

Mrs Aileen Kokoda, from Oro Province, who lives in Boroko, told the court that it was like a scene from a movie.

"There was gun shooting and a guard being hit," she said. "The gang told everybody to lie down, so everyone did. Even the people with nice clothes on just lay down in the dirt."

Mr Smart asked Mrs Kokoda whether she had seen the faces of any of the men involved. "No, sir," she replied. "They had masks over their heads."

The case is being heard by Mr Justice Bredman and the prosecution lawyer is Ms Therese Loloata.

The case continues.

The next-to-last day:

Over several more days of the trial, the prosecution lawyer calls all six witnesses, and each gives evidence and is cross-examined by the defence lawyer; and then the defence lawyer calls his witnesses, and each gives evidence and is cross-examined by the prosecution lawyer. Now it is all over.

The last defence witness has given evidence - a man referred to as John X, to protect his identity for his own safety. He lives in Six Mile and gives evidence about a long-running feud between Mauswara and the prosecution witness from Six Mile, who is also unnamed for his own safety. After a discussion between the judge and both lawyers, it is decided that John X's evidence will be heard in camera since it will otherwise reveal the identity of the prosecution witness.

After lunch the defence lawyer sums up his case, then the prosecution lawyer sums up her case. Because there is no jury, the judge announces that he will adjourn the hearing until next day at 11 am, when he will announce his verdict.

You may report the day's proceedings as follows:

Witness is tarnished, court told

The National Court was yesterday urged to think very carefully before convicting a man on the basis of the evidence of "a tarnished witness".

Defence lawyer Mr Alec Smart was summing up in the case of Joseph Aaron Mauswara, aged 28, an unemployed man from Gulf Province, who lives at Six Mile in the National Capital District.

Mauswara has denied the charge of armed robbery outside Westpac Bank in Douglas Street, Port Moresby, on July 9.

"The prosecution case hangs on a very slender thread," Mr Smart told the court. "Nobody denies that the armed robbery took place, but what is at issue is whether the defendant was one of the men involved.

"The only evidence offered by the prosecution to support this claim is the word of a tarnished witness, a man who the court has heard had good reason to bear a grudge against the defendant.

"I urge the court to weigh the evidence very carefully and not to convict on such evidence."

Mr Smart had earlier called a witness, who was introduced as John X, of Six Mile. After legal discussion, it was agreed that he should give his evidence in camera - that is, in secret - because it may reveal the identity of a prosecution witness who gave evidence on Wednesday, but whose identity has also been kept secret.

After the open hearing resumed, Mr Justice Bredman said: "This witness has given evidence about a strained relationship between the unnamed prosecution witness and the defendant. The submission by the defence is that this is grounds for doubting the word of the witness.

"No further details of the evidence can be made public".

The prosecution lawyer, Ms Therese Loloata, in her summing up, called for the severest action to be taken against Mauswara.

"We have a case in which innocent people have been terrorised on the streets of our city, by a gang of four men including a `Wally' and a `Joe'," she said.

"We have four men, including a man called Wally and the defendant, called Joe, returning to Six Mile shortly afterwards to boast of the crime and to flash big money around.

"And we have the defendant driving armed thugs around Sogeri, flouting the law of the land and trying to kill police officers.

"It is clear that the defendant is one of the four men who carried out the brutal robbery in Port Moresby on July 9. I submit that the court has no choice but to find him guilty."

Mr Justice Bredman adjourned the case until 11 am today, when he will give his verdict.

The last day:

The last day of the trial begins with the judge giving his verdict; he finds Mauswara guilty.

Mauswara's previous convictions are given to the court. A list of eight previous convictions for armed robbery is read out, as well as earlier convictions for petty theft. He was last convicted on five counts of armed robbery three years earlier and sentenced to four years' jail. With remission, he was released from jail just two weeks before the Westpac Bank hold-up.

Then the judge makes some comments before passing sentence. He says that Mauswara is clearly a habitual criminal with no regard or respect for the rule of law. He says that Mauswara is violent and that society needs to be protected from him.

The judge sends Mauswara to jail for ten years with hard labour, which is the maximum sentence for such an offence.

The case is now finished and no longer sub judice. Your report of this final day's court proceedings will still have to be fair, accurate and without malice, in order to be protected by privilege; but you are no longer restricted from talking about the crime or the background to it.

In the next day's paper you should therefore have several different items. The first is a report of the final day's proceedings, as follows:

Man raided bank two weeks after release from jail

A Gulf Province man was one of four armed men who snatched more than K60,000 outside a Port Moresby bank in July - just a fortnight after he was released from jail.

Yesterday the man - Joseph Aaron Mauswara, aged 28, living at Six Mile in the National Capital District - was sentenced to ten years in jail with hard labour.

Mr Justice Bredman told Mauswara at the end of his five-day trial in the National Court:

"You are clearly a habitual criminal with no regard or respect for the rule of law. You have already been sentenced to jail for similar crimes and you have not learned your lesson.

"You are also a violent man and society needs to be protected from you. I am therefore giving you the maximum punishment allowed by the law."

Mauswara and three other men held up security guards as they were leaving Westpac Bank in Douglas Street, Port Moresby, on July 9. They fired shots in the air and beat one security guard with the butt of a gun.

The other three men were shot dead during a gun battle with police near Sogeri two days later. They were David Kapul, aged 31, and Wally Muruk, aged 22, both from Western Province; and Arthur Kakaruk, aged 18, from Gulf Province. They all lived at Six Mile, in the National Capital District.

Mauswara was driving the car in which the gang were attempting to escape from the police at the time of the shoot-out. He was injured when the car left the road and hit a tree.

After yesterday's hearing, Mauswara was taken straight to Bomana Jail to begin his sentence.

In addition to the report of the proceedings - which includes as much of the original crime as you like, since it is all now established as fact - you can now publish any background which you want.

For example, the policeman who was shot in the abdomen, Cpl Garo, may have had to leave the police force as an invalid. During the many weeks of the proceedings, you could have interviewed him about how he feels. Would he do the same if he had his time again? Take a photograph of him. All this material can now be published.

What about the security man who was beaten? Is he still working as a security guard? Does he have sleepless nights, thinking about the day he was nearly killed? You can interview him and publish his story the morning after the trial ends, too.

What about Joe Mauswara? What kind of man is he? Where did he grow up and what was he like as a child? During the proceedings, you or a colleague could have gone to his village and talked to his people, or talk to the people where he has lived. Was he married? If so, perhaps his wife will talk to you.

The day after the trial has ended, your readers will be interested to know this kind of background information. It will help them to understand what turns a man into the kind of violent criminal which Mauswara has become.

Of course, you do not usually carry this amount of background for every court case - only for big crimes, or for crimes involving famous people. But you do need to cover every crime and court case which you consider worth covering in the way outlined here.

Finally, to review what you've read about reporting court and legal issues, here is a diagram by Papua New Guinean cartoonist Bob Browne showing the process from beginning to end.sub judice 1

sub judice 2

sub judice 3

sub judice 4

For a simple colour-coded chart showing how the laws on court reporting interact in two common criminal cases, click here.

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Courts are usually open to the public; journalists are free to report what goes on there

Reports are protected against defamation, as long as they are:

  • Fair
  • Accurate
  • Without malice

To ensure that defendants have a fair trial, there are some restrictions on court reporters:

  • You should not discuss the background to a case, or comment on a case, while it is sub judice
  • You may not be able to report committal proceedings in full
  • You cannot identify children involved in court cases without the court’s permission
  • You may not be able to report what happens in divorce cases
  • You cannot report any hearing that is in camera

Make court reports lively and interesting for the reader or listener

When somebody is found guilty, base the intro on the crime, not the verdict; if the sentence is very unusual, you may base the intro on that

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>>go to next chapter


Index to Chapter 66
  1. The crime
  2. The arrest
  3. The charges
  4. The remand
  5. The committal
  6. The trial
  7. To summarise
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