David Banisar 57
CATCHING UP WITH THETRANSPARENCY REVOLUTION
A ruling allowing the media to access court documents in extradition proceedings helps to entrench openness, argues
The Court of Appeal took a bold step forward in advancing court transparency in April 2012. The decision
Guardian News and Media Ltd v City of Westminster Magistrates Court
established in common law for the first time the right of ordinary people and the media to obtain documents that are used in court cases.
It has been a long time coming. The UK has undergone a transparency revolution over the past 10 years. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) hasforced over 100,000 government bodies to make the information that they collectand use in daily actions available on request to the public. Recent governmentinitiatives have made the expenditures of government bodies and local governmentsavailable online. Parliamentary bills, reports and proceedings are available onlinequickly.
The courts were an early proponent of openness: open justice has been aprinciple since the 17th century. It is essential to ensure that courts are accountable by allowing any person to attend court hearings. But as other governmentinstitutions have become more open, courts’ practices have not evolved to the sameextent. The decision to allow tweeting (in principle) is welcome and the BAILII
initiative and others have resulted in many decisions becoming publicly available, but many gaps remain. The ‘Justice Wide Open’ event at City University revealed thatthere were many legal and practical limits to open justice. Few local newspapers now cover local courts and even the larger national media only attend a few cases;transcripts remain the commercial property of the court reporters and video andaudio recording of cases is forbidden for reasons that are hard to understand; non-media such as community micro-sites have little access to anything; the FOIA only has limited application to the courts.
In this case, the growing practice of judges and the lawyers moving to a moredocument-focused case system and referring to documents that are only partially read out triggered the need to change the rules. An average court case is a bewildering series of references to documents contained in the large boxes on the judges’ and parties’ tables. A member of the public or reporter has little chance to
Rob Evans, ‘Judgment over extradition case is victory for open justice’ The Guardian (London 3 April2012) <http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2012/apr/03/groundbreaking-judgment-extradition-open- justice>, accessed April 2012
R (Guardian News & Media Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates Court
 EWCA Civ 420
At <http://www.bailii.org>, accessed April 2012