Guardian victory in arms bribe case

One of the most shocking things about the UK is the secrecy of its courts. True, you can still go along to most courts in person and watch a trial but as our ability to do this decreases (most of us have work to do) the courts have done nothing to provide alternative means for us to see what is going on in the courtroom.

Cameras in courts are one solution. Making the court record public is another. Today the Guardian succeeded in getting a judge to open a court record.

The openness of court records is such a basic element of democracy that it beggars belief how suppression is still allowed to continue in this country. Even the judge, though he pays lip service to the idea of open justice, seems reluctant to hand over records which should automatically be public. He only does so, it appears, because he views the Guardian as a serious newspaper.

The quality of the newspaper is irrelevant. It is the public who have a right to see justice done, not just the Guardian and not just a serious newspaper.

Making court records public is important because it helps people see who has been in court, what happened and the quality of the evidence used. It is also helpful in civil trials to expose patterns of wrongdoing.

For example, a Canadian producer told me that his team uncovered the single largest fraud committed by a taxation consultant against the government of Canada. Her clients – no less than 250 of them – were left helpless, owing millions of dollars to the Canadian government, when they thought they had been paying taxes properly for years. The foundation of that story was documentation provided by available and detailed court records.

A great injustice is being done to the British public with the continued suppression of court records. The starting point for any decision on court records should be that openness is always best as it encourages open justice.


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