Justice Select Committee calls for improved journalists’ access to courts and data

  • 17 Jan 2023

Government responds to wide-ranging recommendations and commits to call for evidence this year.

Recommendations by MPs on the Justice Select Committee have been addressed by government in a new publication. Issues ranging from court access, data and digitisation are detailed following calls by the Committee for increased support for journalists.  

In its response, government states there are no plans to extend broadcasting policy allowing a judge’s sentencing remarks at Crown Court to be filmed to other courts, although views will be sought on the topic in a call for evidence being launched this year.  

The Committee highlighted concerns about journalists’ access to hearings and the hurdles some encounter in accessing open justice. They flagged the difficulty in raising enquiries or complaints when there was no single point of contact for issues.

Government has confirmed there are no plans to create regional communication and information officers, but that it “will continue to consider how it can make it easier for journalists to contact the courts and improve consistency and efficiency when it comes to accessing the information they need.”

Evidence to the Committee’s enquiry indicated inconsistency in relation to the media and public accessing remote court hearings. The recommendation for published data on requests to observe proceedings, including detail on granted requests by jurisdiction was rejected by government, stating it was not possible to capture reliable data requested.

Recommendation 16 suggests journalists should receive the same level of information provided by Magistrates’ court for Crown Court cases.

Government said:

“In terms of HMCTS practice, however, at present magistrates’ lists and registers are proactively provided to the media, whereas information is provided reactively in the Crown Court. This is described in our media guidance. The Government will keep this under review and consider how the Crown Court may be brought in line with practice in the magistrates’ courts in the future.”

In July 2022, HMCTS launched the first phase of the Court and Tribunal Hearings service (CATH). As part of digitisation plans, the service consolidates hearing lists for courts and tribunals in England and Wales.

The Justice Committee urged government to establish a streamlined process for accessing documents. However, government states there are no plans at present for a digital portal to do so, and requests for documents continue to be considered by staff instead.

As part of the upcoming call for evidence, respondents will be able to share views on accessing case files and other court documents and NUJ members are encouraged to do so to help inform policies.

Read the full report.

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