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14 May 2020

Minister States Commitment To Open Justice

Justice Minister Chris Philp has said that open justice “remains a fundamental principle of the operation of courts and tribunals” as arrangements for the courts to operate with measures to tackle coronavirus are implemented.

The NMA’s submission to the judicial working group on re-starting jury trials stressed the importance of continuing to uphold open justice and highlighted practical issues created by coronavirus requirements including social distancing.

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.”

In a written answer to a question by Alex Cunningham, Stockton North MP, Labour, asking about plans ensure that members of the public and media can attend face-to-face court hearings during the outbreak, Mr Philp said he was committed to ensuring that the media and other members of the public can continue to access these hearings.

Mr Philp said: “Open justice remains a fundamental principle of the operation of courts and tribunals and access to our ‘Open' courts remains available. In all other jurisdictions where there is a public hearing, we are committed to ensuring that the media and other members of the public can continue to access these hearings.

“A range of measures are available that will continue to support the principles of open justice. The media will have access to court lists that state the method in which the hearing is being held, so they can make arrangements to attend in person or request remote observation.

“We are working hard to keep our justice system functioning during this unprecedented public health emergency. Our priorities are to maintain access to justice and to protect the safety of all who are involved, including court staff, judges, jurors, witnesses, legal professionals and observers.

“We are keeping our estate under regular review to ensure that all buildings in use support this priority and apply equally to those entering our buildings.”

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.