Law, Justice and Journalism

Posts Tagged ‘Open Justice’

“In the 21st century, open justice should be online justice”

In Events, Journalism, Justice, Law on April 3, 2012 at 7:46 pm

By Judith Townend

“In the 21st century, open justice should be online justice,” David Banisar, Article 19.

The Guardian has succeeded in its legal bid to gain access to court documents in extradition proceedings (listed at the end of this post).

The Guardian has been seeking access to documents used to justify the extradition of two Britons, Jeffrey Tesler and Wojciech Chodan, to the US. After they were sent to Texas, the pair pleaded guilty to taking part in a decade-long conspiracy to channel bribes worth $180m to Nigerian officials and politicians. (Guardian, 3.04.12)

In a judgment handed down today (Guardian News and Media Ltd, R (on the application of) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court [2012] EWCA Civ 420) the Master of the Rolls, Hooper LJ and Toulson LJ granted appeal of an Administrative court decision which dismissed the Guardian’s claim for judicial review, following a District Judge’s refusal of access to certain documents.

“Although I disagree with the reasoning of the courts below, I recognise that this decision breaks new ground in the application of the principle of open justice, although not, as I believe, in relation to the nature of the principle itself,” Toulson LJ [90].

Brid Jordan, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP, who acted for the Guardian, explains

The Court of Appeal has ruled that where documents have been placed before a judge and referred to in the course of open proceedings, the default position should be that access should be permitted on the open justice principle. Where access is sought for a proper journalistic purpose the case for allowing it will be particularly strong.

The campaigning organisation Article 19 made a submission in the case (embedded below) which the judgment praised for its “helpful and interesting survey of the approach which has been taken by courts in other common law countries“.

The Court of Appeal judgment comes a month on from the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism event, Justice Wide Open. In a comment piece for the Guardian marking today’s judgment, Article 19’s senior counsel David Banisar (left) said that the CLJJ event had

…revealed that there were many legal and practical limits to open justice. Few local newspapers now cover local courts and even the larger national media only attend a few cases; transcripts remain the commercial property of the court reporters and video and audio recording of cases is forbidden for reasons that are hard to understand; non-media such as community micro-sites have little access to anything; the FOIA only has limited application to the courts.

Crucially, Banisar flagged up that in the Guardian’s case,

…the growing practice of judges and the lawyers moving to a more document-focused case system and referring to documents that are only partially read out triggered the need to change the rules.

He argued that taking today’s decision forward, the UK should now adopt a similar approach to the US courts – one of “proactive disclosure”.

This blog post opened with the final sentence of Banisar’s piece: In the 21st century, open justice should be online justice.” That is the central tenet of the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism’s ‘Open Justice in the Digital Age’ project, which we launched with the Justice Wide Open event on 29 February 2012. For more information please visit the project page here. A publication with contributions from the speakers at the event is forthcoming.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Justice Wide Open: courts and legal information in the digital age

In City University London, Events, Journalism, Justice, Law on March 2, 2012 at 4:42 pm

On Wednesday 29 February 2012, academics, lawyers and journalists gathered to discuss open justice in the digital age at City University London.

The programme included context and history, issues for the media and an academic perspective. Speakers included: Geoffrey Robertson QC; Hugh Tomlinson QC; Heather Brooke, journalist and author; Mike Dodd, editor of PA Media Lawyer; and Professor Ian Cram, Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law, University of Leeds.

Later in the spring the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism will be releasing a set of papers from the event and also work on practical recommendations to take forward. Please contact judith.townend.1@city.ac.uk if you would like to be involved or have suggestions.

In the meantime, here are some links to reports elsewhere, tweets, photos and audio.

Audio recordings & slides

  • Session one, with Hugh Tomlinson QC, David Goldberg, information rights academic and activist; and Emily Allbon, City Law School librarian [slides] (chair: Professor Howard Tumber).
  • Session 2, with Heather Brooke, journalist and author; Mike Dodd, editor of PA Media Lawyer; Adam Wagner, barrister; William Perrin, founder of Talk About Local [slides] (chair: Judith Townend).
  • Session 3. An academic perspective, with Professor Ian Cram, Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law, University of Leeds [slides] and Dr Lawrence McNamara, Reader in Law and ESRC/AHRC Research Fellow, University of Reading (chair: Professor Ian Loveland).

Open justice: building on Lord Neuberger’s speech

In Events, Journalism, Law on March 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm

By Judith Townend

A number of bloggers have taken up the issue of digital open justice, following a speech by the Master of the Rolls last week. The UK Human Rights Blog has a round-up here, in which barrister Adam Wagner asks:

But what comes next? In order to push forward the open justice agenda, ideas will have to be practically worked through, and funded. Please use the comments section of this post to let us know what you think, what you make of the ideas in Neuberger’s speech and whether you have any ones of your own.

Here’s an extract of a piece I wrote for Index on Censorship:

It was heartening to hear the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, discuss how best to achieve “public confidence in the justice system, transparency and engagement” last week.

His call for legal clarity and accessibility to UK courts should be welcomed and built upon by advocates of free expression.

‘Open Justice Unbound’, Lord Neuberger’s Judicial Studies Board Annual Lecture 2011, was – as the UK  Supreme Court Blog put it – “a vision for open justice in the 21st century”.

For the time being, however, it’s a vision and there is still much that can be done to open up the UK’s courts online.

Lord Neuberger addressed pertinent digital points in his speech, which covered a range issues: the accessibility and format of judgments, super injunctions and accurate court reporting.

Read in full here

Public funding for the representation of next of kin at inquests and open justice

In Journalism, Justice, Law on February 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm

By Sam McIntosh

In the recent case of R (Humberstone) v Legal Services Commission (the Lord Chancellor intervening) ( [2010] All ER (D) 255 (Dec), [2010] EWCA Civ 1479), the Court of Appeal held that the Legal Services Commission (LSC) was wrong to deny a mother public funding for legal representation at the inquest into the death of her son, Dante Kamara, who had died of an asthma attack aged 10 years.

The case is important because legal representation for next of kin at inquests into deaths for which the state may bear some responsibility can be a vital safeguard against them becoming incestuous dialogues amongst members of the establishment, where the next of kin’s (and the public’s) concerns are given short shrift.  For this and other reasons, the effective participation of the next of kin in an inquest has important implications for open justice and democratic accountability.

The judgment clears up a recurring ambiguity in previous case law concerning deaths which engage article 2 (the right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  The judgment also criticises the presumption made by previous case law, and official guidance, that the next of kin’s right to publicly funded legal representation at article 2 compliant inquests will only arise in exceptional circumstances. Finally, the case demonstrates a rather concerning attitude on the part of the LSC when exercising its discretion: an attitude which may become increasingly entrenched in the current atmosphere of cuts to public funding.