Open justice

Posted: 10th November 2016

Lady of JusticeThe judiciary and the courts work hand in hand in the administration of justice; but what happens when the judiciary are overlooked?

In a recent case involving the founder of Fathers4Justice, the court staff chose to exclude members of the public associated with the defendant without reference to the magistrates. The magistrates refused then to interfere with what they said was and administrative decision.

The Courts and Tribunal Service argued that it had power as an occupier of the building to refuse entry without consulting the judiciary. The claimant argued his right to a fair trial and that his human rights had been breached because in consequence his trial was not truly a public hearing.

On judicial review the High Court was asked to determine the extent to which the court staff, as occupiers, had the free standing power to exclude individuals from the building and then whether this exclusion meant the trial was no longer a public hearing.

In rejecting the first argument the Court found that the exclusion of members of the public from the trial was unlawful. Although there are some powers which enable court security officers to remove and refuse access to the court buildings without reference to the judiciary, these are restricted to cases where a person is drunk or violent. In this instance the founder of “Fathers4Justice” had appeared before the magistrates twice before and on both occasions there had been peaceful protests outside the court buildings.

The second issue was ‘a question of fact and degree’. In this case the ban on the defendant’s supporters probably would have prevented justice being seen to be done but as the magistrates had (sensibly) adjourned the proceedings, the High Court did not need to intervene.

The court also observed that the authority of the Court Service to issue banning letters was questionable.

Public access to hearings is a key part of the open justice principle as is the right to a fair trial.