HMCTS: Courts Reform Should Enhance Open Justice

The reform of the courts should “enhance and increase” openness and strengthen the principle of open justice, the chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunal Service has said in a letter to the News Media Association.  

HMCTS wrote to the NMA in follow up to the NMA’s submission to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee and  publication of the Committee’s final Report Transforming courts and tribunals which provided a critical analysis of the court reform project and its progress.

The Committee noted the evidence from the NMA and journalists which; “raised concerns about the impact of the reforms on the concept of open justice and stressed the importance of public and media access to court proceedings.

“Visibility and scrutiny of the justice system are important to build public confidence that decisions and outcomes are just. The submissions raised practical issues on how journalists can continue to get access to information, court staff and hearings when activities are conducted online,” the Committee said.

In its letter to the NMA therefore, HMCTS expressly confirms its “commitment to ensuring that reform of our courts and tribunals does nothing to undermine open justice” and belief that the changes being made “not only maintain the current level of openness but should enhance and increase it too.”

It intends to maintain the ongoing constructive dialogue with the NMA and help the HMCTS to work collaboratively to build arrangements that are effective both for the media and for HMCTS.

The NMA has also responded to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on Open Justice. This proposes changes to the civil procedure rules governing public and private hearings and creation of a website listing orders closing hearings to the press and public, or imposing reporting restrictions.

The NMA has highlighted areas where the proposal might lead to new restrictions upon court reporting, instead of encouraging greater openness.

In comments reported by the Guardian this week, ITN head of compliance John Battle said it is inevitable that British court proceedings will be televised and has called for the government to allow greater use of cameras in court.

“There will be protocols and safeguards in place to protect witnesses but it is inevitable there will be more filming in the courts in time to come,” he said.

“We have now filmed in quite a number of courts and there’s not really been any negatives. We’ve shown that proceedings are not disruptive and people aren’t put off from coming to court.”