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31 March 2022

Evening Standard's Kirk Warns Of Threat To Open Justice

Plans to move some proceedings out of open court and instead deal with them administratively pose a threat to the principle of open justice, Evening Standard courts correspondent Tristan Kirk has warned.

In a guest blog for the Bar Council, Mr Kirk warned that provisions in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill “which will allow court hearings to be reduced to private messages between lawyers and the courts “constitute an “act of vandalism being perpetrated on open justice.”

“Whether these early court appearances are ‘unnecessary’ or not very much depends on your perspective. More than 100 representatives of the media recently signed a letter to HMCTS, protesting the damage being done and pointing out we consider these hearings absolutely vital,” Mr Kirk said.

Earlier this month, the News Media Association  joined with editors and publishers across the industry to voice concerns about the proposals in a letter to HM Courts and Tribunal Service coordinated by Mr Kirk.  

In his blog post this week, Mr Kirk said:  “When they first appeared before a court, two Met Police officers who photographed the bodies of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman indicated guilty pleas and said they were ‘sorry beyond measure for the pain that they had caused.’ For the first time, it was made clear how the sickening crime had happened.

“Jo Cox MP’s killer Thomas Mair gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” when he first appeared in front of a judge.

“When four men were charged with ‘entering as a trespasser a dwelling, with intent to steal therein’ in 2020, it was the open court hearing which clarified they were behind a £25 million raid on Tamara Ecclestone’s home in one of the biggest burglaries in British legal history.

“Why - the media are asking - is it acceptable to sweep this kind of information into darkness and allow criminal cases to slip into the courts unnoticed and unreported?

“First appearances have tangible value beyond what appears immediately in print, helping reporters to understand decisions that have been taken, how the case will progress, and assess the news value of the case. This will also be lost.”