NMA Stresses Importance Of Open Justice

The principle of open justice must be upheld as the courts authorities begin to implement new arrangements for holding jury trials with measures designed to tackle the spread of coronavirus, the News Media Association has said

The NMA’s submission to the judicial working group on re-starting jury trials welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the group and highlights practical issues created by Covid 19 requirements including social distancing.

These include means for facilitating media/court contacts for reporting purposes, early notification of proceedings and changes of venues, ensuring photographers are allowed to operate outside the courts or new venues, maintaining journalists’ rights to be  physically present in the courtroom, broadening rights of access to court documentation and the importance of enabling reporters’ normal interaction with those  involved in the proceedings.

The NMA said: “Media organisations are profoundly conscious of their crucial role in the practical operation of the principle of open justice.  Hence all are concerned that no new or operational restrictions are placed upon media representatives’ exercise of their usual rights to attend proceedings.

“There would be strong opposition to any compromise of the principle of open justice or any erosion of press and media rights to attend court proceedings. Emergency measures of remote access should not become the sole means of media access and reporting of the criminal courts and trials.

“The ability of individual journalists to access individually and report open court  proceedings has been hugely helpful and should be maintained and improved irrespective of Covid-19 measures, as an integral part of the court digitisation programme.”

“The roll out of broadcasting and live streaming of open court proceedings, including and beyond sentencing remarks in the Crown Court must also be continued and expanded. However, the principle of open justice, public oversight of the courts and report to the public of its work cannot become wholly dependent upon advance media request and discretion of the judge.”

As well as the submission to the judicial working group on re-starting jury trials, the NMA has made a series of submissions on open justice and Covid-19 to the Chief Coroner who is also the Recorder of London, the lead judge at the Central Criminal Court, and on the family courts through its responses to the rapid consultation on remote hearings in the family courts. 

Submissions have also been made to the call for evidence by the Transparency Review, a review of the current arrangements which regulate access by journalists and the public to, and the reporting of, information concerning proceedings in the Family Court conducted by the President of the Family Court.