Following an earlier consultation, Part 39 of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) (relating to hearings in civil courts*) has been amended in some significant ways.

First, to bolster the open justice principle, it has tightened up the rules relating to when a hearing may be in private and when anonymity orders may be made. Secondly, the definition of ‘hearing’ now expressly includes a video link or phone hearing, which means they are subject to the general rule that hearings should be in open court with the public entitled to attend (though how that is to happen in practice remains to be seen, or indeed heard).

The rule now makes clear that consent is not a sufficient basis for any derogation from that general open justice principle, and emphasises that private hearings will only be permitted where this is necessary to secure the “proper administration of justice”.

Under CPR 39.2(5), where a court orders that a hearing be in private, or that a party or witness be anonymised, a copy of that order should, generally, be placed on the UK Judiciary website and non-parties may apply to have the orders varied or set aside. To explain the process, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, has issued Practice Guidance on Publication of Privacy and Anonymity Orders.

It would be very helpful if a similar system were in operation where the Family Court makes reporting restriction orders, as opposed to the system depending upon the Press Association Media Injunctions Alert Service (CopyDirect) which is as subscription service and, as such, not accessible to all those who may have a legitimate need to know whether or not reporting restrictions apply to a particular case.

By another important change benefiting transparency, CPR 39.9 now assists litigants in person (LIPs) in relation to transcripts of their hearings by providing:

“(5) At any hearing, whether in public or in private, the judge may give appropriate directions to assist a party, in particular one who is or has been or may become unrepresented, for the compilation and sharing of any note or other informal record of the proceedings made by another party or by the court.”

For further commentary on these amendments, see

UK Human Rights Blog, Straining the Alphabet Soup: Part 1 — Anonymity orders in Personal Injury proceedings

*Note that family courts are subject to different rules under the Family Procedure Rules, rule 27.10 of which provides that most cases should be heard in private (so pretty much the opposite of what happens in general civil courts) though under rule 27.11(f) accredited journalists, and under the pilot scheme in rule 27.11(ff) legal bloggers, can attend such hearings and report them within strict reporting and anonymity restrictions.

Pic courtesy of Bilal Kamoon (flickr)