UK Justice Lags Behind in Transparency

The UK is lagging behind other jurisdictions when it comes to transparency, according to the Centre for Criminal Appeals. However, with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) very much under public pressure to provide an open and transparent system, a new charter drawn up by the Centre aims to tackle these problems and bring the UK up to the standards of openness enjoyed by some other nations.

According to the Centre for Criminal Appeals, even the poorest of states in the USA currently enjoys a more transparent justice system than that of England and Wales. At the recent launch of the new charter, one of the speakers was attorney Dean Strang who took part in a recent, high-profile US case involving a miscarriage of justice. Specifically, he acted in the appeal of Steven Avery, who was imprisoned in Wisconsin for 18 years for sexual assault but was ultimately found to be innocent. Avery’s case was brought to the attention of the world through popular documentary Making a Murderer. At the event, Strang said that miscarriages of justice like the Avery case would be more difficult to uncover in England and Wales, and cited a lack of transparency as the key reason for this.

The availability of court transcripts was singled out as a key example of the way in which the UK justice system fails to provide the level of openness enjoyed by the USA and many other jurisdictions. In the USA, Strang said, members the media is able to obtain a transcript of a trial for very little expense. Those who hold sufficient stake in a case will automatically be entitled to access transcripts – often at public expense.

In England and Wales, by contrast, it is policy to erase recordings after seven years so unless the case is a recent one transcripts might not be available at all. If the media wishes to request a transcript of a trial and this is still available, then the fees can be much higher than in the US. The cost of obtaining a transcript can be thousands of pounds.

The new charter calls for the following reforms to support transparency in the justice system:

  • The defence counsel should have access to police documents unless the police are able to provide a valid reason to withhold them.

  • Access to all court recordings should be available at no cost. The charter also suggests that, if complete recordings are not available, this should constitute grounds for appeal.

  • Journalists should usually be allowed to visit and speak to prisoners, providing the prisoner in question consents. If such visits are not granted, it should be the responsibility of the governor of the prison to prove this is justified.

  • Those pursuing an appeal against a conviction should have a controlled level of access to evidence.

  • The Criminal Cases Review Commission should make materials available to applicants and their representatives.

The Role of Online Courts in the Future of Justice

There have been multiple calls for online courts from multiple quarters in the past few years, with the first digital court processes currently in development. Many of these have lauded the concept as a way to use contemporary technology to enhance the UK’s justice processes. However, there have also been reservations, and many of the concerns expressed about the concept of digital courts have also revolved around the integrity of British justice.

About Online Courts

Online courts would in many ways be similar to the small claims track, the closest thing the UK currently has to an online court which can often see financial cases settled through online forms with no physical court appearances. Details of the case and all relevant information would be gathered through online forms, and judges and legal professionals could access, review, and respond to the case remotely. This would, of course, be limited to certain kinds of case for which this kind of approach is felt to be sufficient.

Access to Justice

One of the key strengths that online courts could bring to the UK’s legal system is improving access to justice. Some people in remote rural areas are already quite a distance from their nearest court, and in an age when significant numbers of courts are closing to save costs many of these people are finding themselves further and further away from their “local” centre of justice. For at least some kinds of cases, online courts could provide many of these people with direct access to the courts without the need to travel to a specific physical location. On the negative side, while few have debated the advantages of this the Ministry of Justice has been accused of using online courts as an excuse for closing local courts, and an inferior substitute for keeping them open.

Quality of Justice

This is arguably among the more contentious issues surrounding the impact that online courts may have on how justice is done in the UK. Critics suggest that having cases dealt with online would make it harder to ensure that justice is done properly and fairly, and also express concerns about the fact that some online court proposals may exclude professional legal representation from a number of cases. Proponents of online courts, on the other hand, claim that for many cases an online system is entirely adequate without compromising on the quality of justice, and that by being easier to access and more affordable it would encourage a greater number of people to pursue justice in the first place.

Hello world!

Hi, I’m Levinson – welcome to my blog! Yes, its about law and justice, but no, its not boring!!!

The law is not always concerned with staid and dreary lawsuits; sometimes there are cases that are odd, to say the least. To start off my blog, I bring to you a collection of some of the most unusual cases to have been heard in the UK.

  • Tracey Ormsby, a Policewoman, tried to claim £1.5million damages when she was hit on the head by a pineapple. The judge saw sense and reduced her award to just £3000.
  • Lord Justice Ormrod, Lord Justice Dunn and Mr Justice Arnold made a memorable ruling in 1980, when they agreed that a woman who rationed sex to her husband was ‘acting reasonably’.
  • Cathy McGowan won a car on a local radio station, only to be presented with a toy one when she went to collect her prize. The court ruled that Radio Buxton pay her £8000 – the value of the apparently price Renault Clio – as they had entered into a legally binding contract.
  • Schools were subject to a High Court order that they must inform children watching ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, the famous Al Gore climate change film, that it contains ‘partisan political views’.
  • Brian Clapton, a butcher, was subjected to a court order banning him from chopping meat too loudly between the hours of 6am and 8am.
  • Procter and Gamble, the major multinational, managed to get a court to rule that Pringles are not, in fact, crisps, thus saving the company thousands in VAT applied to such products.

The law can be a strange beast, and some of the above are cautionary tales that show exactly why you should fight your corner if you believe you are not being fairly treated.

Often, the outcome of a case may be far from certain.

Levinson for Justice!!!