At a glance: Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Service, England and Wales, spoke on the principle of open justice in England and Wales.  During the discussion following his speech, he suggested that Hong Kong do more to establish open justice in its courts.  Yet he added it was important to do so practically, one step at a time.  Open justice is a principle in common law in which proceedings should be open to the public, including the contents of court files and public viewing of trials.

Keynote Speech (30 min, 15 min Q&A)
Moderator: Justice Michael Hartmann NPJ (Non-permanent judge, Court of Final Appeal of HKSAR)
Speaker: “Sharpening the public gaze: advances in open justice in England and Wales”
Lord Dyson MR (Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice, England and Wales)

The second day of the conference commenced with a keynote speech by Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Service, English and Wales.  In his introduction of Lord Dyson, the Hon. Mr. Justice Hartmann (Non-permanent judge, Court of Final Appeal of HKSAR) highlighted the need for the law to renovate so as to achieve true transparency in the legal system.

Open justice was the focus of Lord Dyson’s speech, “Sharpening the public gaze: advances in open justice in England and Wales”.  In contrast to an earlier period when civil jury trials engaged ordinary citizens in the administration of justice to a greater extent, contemporary times have seen falling court attendance and a decline in media reporting of civil proceedings.  Drawing reference from the legal philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who famously propounded that “Publicity is the very soul of justice.  It is the keenest spur to exertion, and the surest of all guards against improbity”,  Lord Dyson observed that it is even more important today to enhance the public’s understanding of the work of judges, so as to avoid the appearance that justice is administered behind closed doors.

The first aspect of open justice addressed by Lord Dyson was the televising of court proceedings.  The historical ban on the use of photography and filming in English courts was aimed at deterring sensationalist reporting and trivializing trials to media entertainment.  Changes were set in motion when the UK Supreme Court began to provide live televised broadcasts of appeal hearings and the delivery of judgments on Sky Television.  After public consultation in 2012, a pilot scheme was introduced to televise proceedings in the Court of Appeal in October 2013, the effects and consequences of which remain to be seen.

Lord Dyson also said the use of technology and social media opened the courts to the public, pointing to the Practice Guidance issued in 2011 permitting the use of mobile email, social media and internet-enabled laptops in and from courts to provide live-text-based communications.  The relaxation on the use of social media in court enhanced the notion of open justice, while emphasizing that the court has the overriding responsibility to ensure that proceedings are conducted with the proper administration of justice, particularly in criminal proceedings and jury trials where complexities may be the most acute.

The third aspect of open justice addressed by Lord Dyson was the evolving interaction between the judiciary and the media, in breaking away from the traditional attitude of mutual suspicion.  In particular, the Judicial Communication Office (JCO) was created with the aim of increasing the public’s confidence in judges and the justice system, including the maintenance of the judicial website and publishing summaries of judgments.  It is also mandated to facilitate accurate reporting, by explaining to the press particular contentious issues that arise from judgments or sentencing remarks and providing background information so as to place issues in their proper context.  The media panel of the judiciary is also instrumental in clearing up media confusion in the reporting of cases and improves public understanding and confidence in the justice system, albeit the rather infrequent occasions where the panel has been called to provide comment.

Concluding on a note of cautious optimism in furthering reforms on open justice, Lord Dyson accentuated the pivotal balance between the need for judges keeping their justice such as the majesty of the law is preserved on the one hand, and recognizing that judges are public servants, the work of whom the public has a right to understand.  Ultimately, all steps should be taken to secure public scrutiny of the courts, which is essential to maintain public confidence in the justice system and the rule of law itself.

Lord Dyson Keynote – 19 Oct 2013 (Judiciary of England and Wales)

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