Civil liberty groups call for open justice

CIVIL liberty and media groups are calling on the Lord Chancellor and Home Office to help “throw back the creeping blanket of secrecy” in the UK by making a series of commitments to open justice.

These would include open access to court decisions and documentation, together with full-scale reform of the laws of contempt and defamation.

In addition, they include a call to reverse the trend of extending civil criminal laws which outlaw possession of information.

The call is part of a concerted campaign, which was launched last week with a written Declaration on Freedom of Information.

The declaration demands that the pubic should have the right to know what goes on in Government, the courts, quangos, public bodies and public service providers which are being created by increased privatisation and contracting out.

It springs from joint work by four groups – Liberty, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Article 19 (with supp- orters among top silks including Doughty Street Chamber's Geoffrey Robertson QC), and regional newspaper body the Guild of Editors.

Santha Rasaiah, the guild's senior lawyer, said: “Open justice and freedom of information should concern all lawyers.”

She added: “The culture of secrecy has prevented or made more difficult the job of ordinary lawyers in representing their clients. One example might be litigating against health authorities.”

The declaration's open justice commitments include court decisions and documents being made available as of right to the public, particularly in the increasing circumstances of streamlined proceedings, when courts rely more on papers and less on oral evidence.

Other points include injunctions in open court, the review of the growth in blanket injunctions by local authorities seeking anonymity in litigation, the keeping of registers detailing all restriction orders by courts and tribunals, and the research and review of such orders.