The Ministry of Justice will launch a ‘wide ranging’ call for evidence on open justice, the government has confirmed this week.
Responding to the House of Commons Justice Committee’s report last year into Court Reporting in the Digital Age, the government said that it remained “committed to upholding the principle of open justice” but rejected a number of the committee’s recommendations including the formation of a single digital portal for access to court documents as well as regional officers to support media access and complaints and further data on remote hearings.
The Society of Editors had previously written to the government in support of the justice committee’s recommendations highlighting the fact that journalists continued to face “significant barriers” and variations in the accessibility and quality of information that is made available to them during court proceedings and that many of the proposals would strengthen open justice.
Rejecting the call for regional officers to support media access, the government said that HMCTS staff already facilitate extensive access to court and tribunal hearings and that while it appreciates that the “application of guidance can, at times, be inconsistent across more than 330 courts and tribunals” where issues are brought to HMCTS’s attention, “it works hard to swiftly resolve these”.
In addition, it was impractical for the government to gather data on requests to observe hearings remotely, it said. HMCTS currently utilises a number of video hearing platforms so it would be unable to “gather reliable data on the total number of requests or actual observers at hearing”, the government responded.
On the possibility of a single digital portal for access to court documents, the government said that although it has “well-developed plans to improve access to court lists and judgments” the creation of a portal “would require considerable resources which is not within the scope” of the HMCTS reform programme.
Confirming that the Ministry of Justice would, later this year, launch a public consultation on many of the key themes contained within the committee’s report, the government said that it would also look to gather stakeholders’ views on how it can “support and strengthen openness, transparency, and the accessibility” of courts to ensure that “limited resources” are targeted effectively.
The government’s response can be read in full here.