Giving the keynote speech at the Society of Editors 25th anniversary conference on 30 April 2024 the Lady Chief Justice, Baroness Carr of Walton-On-The-Hill, announced the establishment of a new Transparency and Open Justice Board, to be chaired by Mr Justice Nicklin. She said:

“8. Its aim is to examine and modernise our approach to open justice, not least to ensure that we take proper account of wider societal changes as well as those being effected by the courts. It will set objectives for all Courts and Tribunals, focussing on timely and effective access in terms of listing, documents and public hearings. It will engage with the public and interested parties to make sure that these objectives properly reflect what should be delivered by a modern justice system.

9. Historically, work relevant to open justice has been dealt with piecemeal by reference to individual jurisdictions. As I have said, the Board’s remit covers all Courts and Tribunals. It will be looking in particular at what can be done to increase public and media access. That our courts are open to the press is as important as being open to the public.

10. The judiciary and media share a common duty: we are and must continue to be the guardians of open justice. The greatest threat comes not from direct attack on the principle, but rather from careless – sometimes inadvertent – failures to protect its ideals. I intend the judiciary to step up, continuing to play our important constitutional role of protecting and promoting open justice as an essential element of the rule of law. The Board that I have established will take this important work forward, and I am delighted to be publishing its terms of reference today. It will review and challenge the way that the judiciary works and ensure that openness and transparency is at the heart of what we do. We will renew the promise that justice will not only be done, but will be seen to be done.”

Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference reiterate that

“Justice must be done, and it must be seen to be done. The public has a right to know what happens in their Courts and Tribunals. For all Courts and Tribunals, the overriding objective is to deal with cases justly. Confidence in that process is built on the principles of transparency and open justice.”

After announcing the membership of the Board, mostly judges or people working within the Judicial Office, the terms of reference include a specific requirement “To establish a Stakeholder Committee to assist the Board”. They also speak of “wide engagement with interested parties” before finalising the Key Objectives to be promoted across courts and tribunals in England & Wales.

We certainly welcome and support this new development, which appears designed to look at all jurisdictions holistically (including family courts) and not in separate silos. And we look forward to being invited to participate in the promised Stakeholder Committee, which we sincerely hope won’t simply rely on representatives from the media but will also include legal bloggers, civil society, academic researchers and interested members of the public.

Open letter response

The announcement follows the response last month from Baroness Carr CJ to our recent open letter pointing out a worrying series of errors in published guidance from HM Courts & Tribunal Service on public access to court hearings and information.

The Lady Chief Justice acknowledged that the HMCTS advice wrongly suggested that laptops could not be used in court and noted that the service had taken steps to make the necessary correction.

She also reiterated her commitment to transparency and open justice in courts and tribunals. We place great faith in the fact that she appears to have done just that.

Before you go….

We have a small favour to ask!

The Transparency Project is a registered charity in England and Wales run by volunteers who mostly also have full-time jobs. We’re working to secure extra funding so that we can keep making family justice clearer for all who use the court and work in it. We’d be really grateful if you were able to help us by making a small one-off (or regular!) donation through our Just Giving page

Featured image:   Photo by Finn Hackshaw on Unsplash (thanks!)