The real “democratic deficit” in the courts is about limited public access not “unelected judges“, Adam Wagner, a barrister at One Crown Office Row, argued on the UK Human Rights Blog at the weekend, challenging a recent political and media narrative.
In his view, the internet age necessitates “a completely new understanding of the old adage ‘Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done‘”.
Wagner is one of 14 authors who contributed to a new working publication entitled ‘Justice Wide Open’, produced by the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ), City University London, following an event on February 29 2012. The individual chapters can be accessed electronically.
The new collection of working papers is part of a wider project encouraging ‘Open Justice in the Digital Era‘. The issues are extensive and diverse: the recommendations of the government’s ‘secret justice’ green paper, now the Justice & Security bill, which would see more cases behind closed doors; the decline in local and national court reporting as a result of cuts in journalism; the courts’ barriers to entry due to ill-informed staff; and the difficulties in obtaining free legal information.
In the first section on the tradition and context of open justice, Geoffrey Robertson QC, the keynote speaker at the event, sets out the history of the principle and argues that the government’s Justice and Security recommendations are simply not compatible.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, examines the way in which open justice is said to underpin the rule of law and our liberal democracy, and Dr David Goldberg looks to Sweden and Scotland for historical and comparative examples of open justice.
The second section explores the flow of legal knowledge: Hugh Tomlinson QC makes recommendations for the online availability of case law and lists, while Emily Allbon analyses the ‘free legal info landscape’. Nick Holmes introduces the ‘Free Legal Web’ initiative and David Banisar comments on a ‘bold’ Court of Appeal judgment ordering the publication of certain documents in criminal proceedings.
We turn to the role of the media and journalists in the third section: Heather Brooke describes the evolving culture of ‘secret justice’ and Mike Dodd reflects on the numerous obstacles to court reporting. Adam Wagner explains how legal blogs can act as a corrective to poor journalism, while William Perrin sets out his own ‘courts transparency charter’ for the publication of daily legal data.
Three academic researchers tackle open justice issues in the final section: Professor Ian Cram looks at the effect of Twitter on juries; Dr Lawrence McNamara considers how the judiciary contributes to legal reform through ‘extra- judicial’ statements; and Lucy Series examines secrecy in the Court of Protection.
The debate continues beyond the pages of the publication, however. The CLJJ has created a special page on its website to track the development of the ‘Open Justice in the Digital Era’ project, which includes audio from the event and hyperlinks to relevant reports. We will also be affiliated with the newly formed Coalition for a Public Interest Data Policy.
Please contact the CLJJ with your own thoughts and experiences, which will feed into ongoing research and work in this area and forthcoming recommendations to the Ministry of Justice.
Judith Townend is a PhD researcher based at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism and editor of ‘Justice Wide Open’.
To become involved in the project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.