NMA Welcomes Strong Government Commitment to Open Justice

The News Media Association has welcomed the Government’s strong commitment to open justice and offered to work with the Government as it seeks to reform the justice system by using technology to make processes more efficient.

Responding to consultation papers relating to  ‘Transforming our justice system,’ the NMA said: “Effective public scrutiny and oversight of the administration of justice must be maintained, whatever digital transformations take place.

“The media will wish to continue to attend and to report the work of the courts. We therefore welcome this commitment to public access to real time hearings. We would welcome the opportunity to explore in more detail the wider ramifications for open justice.”

The proposals for reform of both civil and criminal proceedings include more decisions made “on the papers” and more virtual hearings as well as managing divorce online and putting probate applications online.

The consultation paper stated that: “Many of these changes are designed to bring the justice system up to date for the modern world and take advantage of advances in technology to provide a faster, more accessible service for users of the courts and tribunals. It is important, however, that we also consider the unintended effects of this technology to make sure that the system remains just.We will:

“… Continue to ensure open justice: It is a core principle of our justice system that justice is open. “It is not merely of some importance, but of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should be manifestly and undoubtedly seen to be done,” as Lord Chief Justice Hewart said in 1924. The principle of open justice will be upheld and the public will still be able to see and hear real-time hearings, whilst we continue to protect the privacy of the vulnerable.”

In its response, the NMA said that it would be happy to explore the ramifications of the proposed reforms for open justice and the implications for the media in more detail.

It reminded the MoJ that when the NMA had raised open justice concerns  during the passage of the Bill introducing ‘ single JPs on the papers trials’,  the Justice Secretary and MoJ had given assurances inside and outside Parliament that court lists and registers of judgements for the criminal courts continue to be supplied to news media, as detailed in the Protocol for Sharing Court Registers and Court Lists with Local Newspapers, negotiated by the NMA with the MoJ and that such material must  contain sufficient information to accurately identify defendants and the outcome of the proceedings. 

 “The proposed changes to the court system and procedures will require further open justice considerations. The NMA would be interested in exploring access to the documentation rights and arrangements for such access,” the NMA said.

“The news media and its reporters, including the local press would wish to have access to the relevant court documentation. This would assist accurate reporting of the cases and understanding of the issues involved.

“This will be relevant to substantive online submissions, decisions and reasons in both criminal and later civil cases.”