Courts system can do more to support open justice, says SoE

Posted on: November 21, 2022 by Claire Meadows

Despite “significant progress” by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in modernising the courts system, more can be done to support open justice, the Society of Editors has urged.  

Writing to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab in response to the publication earlier this month of the Justice Committee’s report into Open Justice: Court Reporting in the Digital Age, the Society said that journalists continued to face “significant barriers” in accessing court proceedings and information and the Society welcomed a number of the committee’s recommendations on how open justice could be enhanced.  

The Society said: “HMCTS’ ongoing Reform Programme is making significant progress in modernising and upgrading the justice system however more can indeed be done by the courts and judiciary to support open justice in the digital age. As has been reported by a number of our members, journalists continue to face practical difficulties and “significant barriers” and variations in the accessibility and quality of information that is made available to them during court proceedings. Such difficulties pose significant challenges in ensuring open justice can be maintained and we welcome the committee’s acknowledgement that the justice system as well as judges and courts staff have a role to play in translating the principle of open justice into reality.”

Among the recommendations supported by the Society is the formation of a single digital portal for the media and public to access information related to court proceedings as well as a centralised database for court restrictions and the piloting of regional officers to support media access and complaints.

It said: “The Society welcomes the committee’s recommendation of a single digital portal which the media and the public can use to access information on court proceedings, court documents and other relevant information and we have long supported the formation of a centralised database for reporting restrictions. In addition, the piloting of regional communication and information officers to support media and public access to hearings would ensure there is a formal mechanism in place to raise accessibility enquiries or complaints in relation to the courts.”

While the Society acknowledged that remote access to proceedings had put additional demands on the judiciary and its support staff, it agreed with the committee’s observation that improvements in the technological facilities of courts had the potential to enhance open justice. In addition, the “monumental” broadcasting of sentencing remarks from the Crown Court earlier this year would have greatly enhanced “public understanding of how sentencing decisions are made” the Society said.  

It added: “The broadcasting earlier this year of sentencing remarks in the Crown Courts was a monumental moment for open justice and will no doubt ensure greater public understanding of how sentencing decisions are made. The Society has long supported the expansion of broadcasting in the courts for the benefit of the public and we welcome the justice committee’s support for further research to determine areas in which filming could be expanded particularly in relation to civil and criminal proceedings and the broadcasting of sentencing remarks from Magistrates’ courts.”

The Society’s letter to the Lord Chancellor can be read in full here.