Joshua Rozenberg is the face of legal journalism in England and Wales. He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4's flagship legal show 'Law in Action'. He was the BBC's legal correspondent for 15 years. He has worked for the The Daily Telegraph as their legal editor. He is well known for his contributions to the Guardian's online legal pages, the Law Society Gazette, Standpoint and Law Business Review.
In an interview with LLB Online we asked Joshua about his take on legal journalism, the future in the legal world and about some of the highlights of his remarkable career.
LLB Online: To what extent do you think the creation of the Supreme Court has changed the public understanding of law?
JR: Very little, I'm afraid.
LLB Online: How would the televising of courtroom proceedings transform the public perception of justice?
JR: People would be favourably impressed. However, like the Lord Chief Justice, I do not favour televising criminal trials (apart from sentencing).
LLB Online: How do you rate the quality of legal journalism in England and Wales? Are Court proceedings reported fairly and accurately?
JR: Legal journalism is in steady decline. The Press Association news agency is not replacing experienced court reporters as they retire. Without them, and a handful of specialist freelances based at the law courts, there is little hope of accurate reporting. Only three broadsheets (FT, Times, Guardian) have specialist legal correspondents.
LLB Online: It often seems that the judiciary receive rough treatment in the tabloid press. How fair are headlines such as 'Judge lets criminal go free?'
JR: They are almost invariably unfair. That headline would be accurate only if it referred to a judge-directed acquittal (in response to a claim that there was no case to answer) or to an absolute discharge. The latter are extremely rare and are more likely to be granted by magistrates than judges. Headlines like this usually refer to a non-custodial penalty. That's not the same as going free. Of course, a district judge may acquit a defendant. But that's not letting him go free either; it's clearing him.
Law and Campaigning
LLB Online: Increasingly law is being used to front social campaigns. What are your observations about how charities and third sector organisations are increasingly attempting to pursue their point through use of the law?
JR: The courts have permitted this by relaxing the need for "standing" (locus standi) over the years. This strikes me as legitimate: if a public body is acting unlawfully, the courts should intervene. Of course, campaign groups risk paying the defendant's costs if they lose.
LLB Online: Is judicial review a valid means of challenging legislation? Do the recent challenges (e.g the Civil Service Pensioner's Alliance challenging the decision to uprate pensions according to the CPI rather than the RPI, and the Fawcett Society's challenge the Budget through Judicial Review) mark a break in the way pressure groups can use the law to achieve their means, or merely a new media hook for them to publicise their cause?
JR: As far as I know, you can't challenge primary legislation through judicial review. You have been able to challenge secondary legislation through judicial review for many years.
The Future of the Legal System
LLB Online: Cuts to legal aid are a cause for concern in the legal world. What is your opinion on how the cuts will affect justice in England and Wales?
JR: I share the widespread concern.
LLB Online: Next year a new President of the Supreme Court will be appointed. What qualities does the new president need to sell a positive view of the legal system to people in England and Wales?
JR: He or she must be sympathetic to the public's concerns and comfortable with the modern media.
LLB Online: The Human Rights Act is currently being reconsidered. How big an effect do you think the process of renogotiating this piece of legislation will have on the English legal landscape?
JR: Nothing will change before the next general election. I'm not sure that very much will happen after the election either.
LLB Online: What attracted you to a career in legal journalism?
JR: I moved from being a trainee lawyer to being a trainee journalist. When the BBC wanted a specialist legal correspondent I was in the right place at the right time. It was the obvious thing to do.
LLB Online: What would you consider to be the most important legal decision you have commented on?
JR: The legal moves taken to defeat the miners' strike of 1984/5. If the strike had not been broken, it could have brought down the government. If that doesn't count as a single decision, I suppose I'd pick the "Belmarsh" case (A v Home Secretary, 16 December 2004). The most dramatic decision was the first House of Lords ruling in Pinochet.