‘e-Supreme Court’ proposal splits bar

Bar divided over publication of Supreme Court arguments on the web

Should the UK Supreme Court follow in the steps of the US and put written cases online? That was the question on Twitter last month, when the UK Supreme Court wrote that it was “exploring” the possibility of putting skeleton arguments on the internet. 

The Supreme Court’s press spokesman insists this is far from a plan, saying the court is in the “very early stages” of considering the pros and cons. 

It’s a discussion that divides the bar – is this a necessary step for open justice or just a big fat pain in the neck?

“Such documents could be read out of context,” warns Hardwicke’s PJ Kirby QC. “Lots of clients don’t understand that you can be representing a bank one day and someone being sued by the bank the next. [Also], would you find people copy-and-pasting parts of an argument in future? There are a lot of copyright issues.”

Others think it is inevitable. 

“If the Supreme Court is to be true to its guiding ethos of open justice the parties’ written cases should go online,” argues Mark Hill QC of Francis Taylor Building. “It’s necessary following the introduction of the live internet feed of hearings and will enable the public to make sense of the dialogue between counsel and justices.”

However, Hill notes that the challenges involved – copyright, confidentiality and defamation – need to be addressed. Cases should only be published after the decision, suggests one QC, not before.

“It’s inevitable and right for transparency to publish after the decision,” the QC adds. ”But there’s a risk in publishing before the hearing or decision. [One] difficulty is identifying confidential information, the sort of material the court might order should not be disclosed, such as identities in family cases, health issues or commercially confidential material. If cases are published beforehand, how is that going to be monitored?” 

It seems the bar will not reach a consensus on the pros and cons of the proposal for quite some time.