A failure of Open Justice?

A failure of Open Justice?


RCF Guardian

We have looked at the Attorney-General’s References for the case of ‘predatory’ Neil Wilson and the artist Graham Ovenden, heard on 8th and 9th October 2013 respectively. In both cases, we said that we will need to see the full transcript before commenting on the sentence.

So, six weeks down the line where are we? The Court of Appeal have started televising (some of) their proceedings. This has been a slight damp squib so far, cameras in courts haven’t brought the house crashing down, but it’s hardly set it alight either. As a blog that has, as its stated aim, demystifying and explaining the criminal law, can we share a gripe?

In becoming the first televisual Lord Chief Justice, Baron Thomas said “the start of broadcasting from the Court of Appeal … This will help a wider audience to understand and see for themselves how the Court of Appeal goes about its work”. So, how do they go about their work? Slowly it would seem. Releasing judgments into the public domain (preferably for free) is a vital part of opening the courts (far more important than cameras many would think).

Why has it taken six weeks to publish these two judgments? Especially as both have generated a large amount of public comment? A transcript can be prepared pretty much instantaneously. We accept that it has to be anonymised (the victims involved cannot be named) and checked by the relevant Judge before being released. Even so, there is no reason at all why it should not have been published weeks ago.

Open Justice is not always easy, but it is vital. Informed comment by an informed populace requires that people are to access the information. If the Lord Chief Justice wants to genuinely open up the Courts, then great, but we cannot see for ourselves how it ‘goes about its work’ unless we see the fruits of their labour, and whilst it is still current news.

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.