Ministry of Justice to launch call for evidence on open justice

Freer: Targeting resources for most impact

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is to launch a “wide-ranging” call for evidence on open justice, access to information and transparency across the courts and tribunals.

The call for evidence later this year was revealed in the MoJ’s response to the justice select committee’s report on open justice, published in November, which called among other things for a single digital portal where the public and media could access information on court proceedings and documents

The MoJ said: “This call for evidence will clarify and publicise the right to attend court hearings and access information on court proceedings in the digital age, as well as inform our decision-making on how we progress this work in the years ahead.”

It would use the call for evidence “as an opportunity to clearly set out how we adhere to the principle of open justice, our recent projects to strengthen accessibility and transparency, and outline our future ambitions.

“We will signpost to the relevant guidance on and promote the daily hard work of judges and court staff to deliver open justice day in and day out.”

The justice committee had called for a “comprehensive review” of access to court documents and more help for people to access online hearings.

The MoJ said it would this year develop and publish a charter for members of the public “that summarises the existing rules that facilitate public access to court and tribunal hearings and information” and would sit alongside the reporters’ charter published last year.

It was the intention of HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to make its video hearing service the “sole platform for all remote and hybrid hearings”, and to facilitate remote access to in-person hearings.

“As the service is developed, it will have the in-built functionality to automatically collect (anonymised) data on the number of observers at each hearing.”

The MoJ said it had “well-developed plans” to improve access to court lists and judgments.

“While some court documents are already published, we do not, at this stage, have plans to create a digital portal for access to all court documents.

“There is a large variety and volume of documents and many, either in part or whole, are not suitable for release. The creation of a portal would require considerable resources which is not within the scope of the HMCTS reform programme.”

However, the question of access to case files and court documents would feature in the call for evidence.

The MoJ described the idea of routinely recording and transcribing magistrates’ courts hearings as “disproportionate”.

However, it “may use” the call for evidence to gather views on expanding the current broadcasting regime.

Justice minister Mike Freer said: “In this open policymaking exercise, we will gather stakeholders’ views on how we can support and strengthen openness, transparency, and the accessibility of our court and tribunal services.

“Recognising the challenging fiscal environment, this exercise will help us target our limited resources where they can have the biggest impact.”

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