Opening Up The Courts, And Sometimes Closing Them Too

Open justice. It’s a really important legal principle. It means that cases in court should almost always happen in public so the press are able to report on the proceedings, and the public can go and watch if they want to. This let’s us scrutinise the justice system and, ultimately, keep the judges in check. It is protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which also protects freedom of speech.

Open justice has always been had a high status in English law, with the principle being seen as vital for a healthy democracy. This means that the courts are very reluctant to chip into this principle by, for example, keep the public out of trials or keeping the names of parties in cases anonymous. But what happens when an individual’s human rights are at stake?

In this case A was a convicted sex offender. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, wanted to deport him back to his home country. A appealed her decision. He said his right to life and physical integrity would be violated if he were returned to his home country, as he was likely to suffer ill treatment from people who knew he was a sex offender. A’s name and details had been concealed throughout the proceedings and so the Court thought that there was no risk to A provided the anonymity order remained in place.

In 2012 the BBC launched proceedings seeking to remove A’s anonymity order. There’s a much greater interest in a story with a name in it. In 2014, the Supreme Court was faced with a tough decision. Restrict the press’ freedom to report on proceedings fully and freely or risk harm to A in his home country.

The Court kept A’s anonymity order in place. It said that although the principle of open justice is extremely important in English law, there are certain circumstances where the principle must be restricted. In cases where legal proceedings would be fundamentally undermined were a party’s identity to be revealed, or where that party’s rights to life or physical integrity are at risk, the principle of open justice sometimes loses out..

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

Media Coverage of this story