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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 12:45 GMT
Judges to be given media training
Lord Phillips
Lord Phillips wants to improve relations with the public
Five senior judges are to be trained in how to handle the media so that they can explain controversial sentencing decisions, peers have been told.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Philips, said "big guns" such as himself would still comment on general legal points.

But judges would also be available to comment on individual cases when controversy flared-up in the media.

The move was one of several key recommendations made by the Lords Constitution Committee.

The committee also recommended amending the ministerial code to ensure the government respected the judiciary's independence.

Lord Philips has agreed to produce an annual report on the work of the courts and has pledged to improve relations with the media and the public.

'Reactive' role

He said deciding which cases required a comment from a judge was "the most delicate matter and it has to be done, essentially on a case-by-case basis".

But, he added: "We decided it's desirable that there should be judges who are available to respond in appropriate cases."

He said five judges "representing different areas of judicial activity" would receive training "in talking to the media".

If the initial five were not enough, more judges would be "trained-up", Lord Philips told the committee.

But he stressed their role would be "reactive" - and it was unlikely, for example, that their telephone numbers would be handed out to journalists.

He said they should be used as a "last resort" when there had been a misinterpretation of a sentencing decision.

He cited the case of Craig Sweeney, who was jailed for five years after being found guilty of abducting and sexually assaulting a girl of three.

The then Home Secretary, John Reid, criticised the sentence as too lenient.

But Lord Philips said the judge had been following the government's sentencing guidelines.

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