Open Justice: Court Reporting In The Digital Age

The House of Commons Justice Committee has warned that the court system needs to do more to support open justice in the digital age, accepting industry recommendations for a digital portal which the media and the public can use to access information on court proceedings. 

In a report published on Tuesday the Committee notes that there has been a “significant decline” in coverage of the courts in the media, particularly in the local press. They find this disturbing, given that “the media plays a vital role in communicating the work of the courts to the public.”

The report highlights evidence from the News Media Association and journalists’ organisations about the practical difficulties journalists encounter reporting on the courts, including barriers to attendance and significant variations in the accessibility and quality of information available on ongoing court proceedings.  The Committee concludes that that there is “much more that could be done to ensure that the media and the public can access the information they need to follow court proceedings.”  

The Committee has taken up the recommendation of the NMA and the Media Lawyers Association that HMCTS should develop a single digital portal which the media and the public can use to access information on court proceedings, court documents and other relevant information.  This should also enable access to a centralised database of reporting restrictions on cases.

The Committee agrees with the NMA that HMCTS should ensure that the Crown Court provides the same level of information to journalists on the outcome of cases as is currently provided by the Magistrates’ court. 

The report welcomes the new legislative framework for remote observation of court proceedings, with the Committee commenting: “The combination of this framework and improvement of the technological facilities of courts has the potential to enhance open justice by making it easier for the public and the media to observe proceedings.”

The NMA’s written evidence can be viewed in full here, and other evidence can be found on the inquiry publications page of the Justice Committee’s website.

The government now has two months to respond to the Justice Committee’s recommendations.