News

Concerns over access to open justice

Posted on: June 3, 2020 by Ian Murray

A coalition of campaigning organisations and academics are calling on the government to make sure that the public and media have proper access to courts.

The group – including APPEAL, Transform Justice, Spotlight on Corruption, the Transparency Project and the Justice Gap – has published an open letter voicing concerns about open access to justice during the Covid-19 crisis.

Writing in The Justice Gap web magazine, the coalition sets out measures it feels would ensure better open access to courts during the pandemic.

“We believe that public access to public hearings can be increased without radical transformation, and observer access to private hearings likewise. For example, a responsive point of contact for each court type should be set up, through which operational concerns can be raised. These should be open to members of the public as well as the media. This must happen as quickly as possible to preserve the benefits that come with open justice and to guard against miscarriages of justice and other ill-effects of a closed system.”

The letter is signed by Judith Townend, University of Sussex; Penelope Gibbs, Transform Justice; Emily Bolton, APPEAL;, Susan Hawley, Spotlight on Corruption; Mark Hanna, University of Sheffield; Lucy Reed, The Transparency Project; Paul Magrath, Incorporated Council of Law Reporting; Julie Doughty, Cardiff University; Lucy Welsh, University of Sussex; Jon Robins, The Justice Gap and Phil Chamberlain, University of Bath.

The letter also calls on government to resist the temptation to live-stream all cases.

”We acknowledge that the provision of public access in digital environments is challenging: this was the case pre-pandemic.

“There are important factors to consider when granting public audiences access to remote hearings and courts information.

“We do not wish the Government and Judiciary to rush to the public live-streaming of all case types, or mass-scale public release of courts data, without considering the risks and impact on court users in different court and tribunal types.

“We also encourage them to expand the range of data collected on remote proceedings in order to better monitor experiences of court users, and the implications for fair and equal access to justice.”

The Society of Editors has reported previously on how courts have begun to start holding hearings again after stopping all jury trials at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.