“Commitment to open justice underpins the rule of law,” says Supreme Court chief

November 22, 2012

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The President of the UK Supreme Court has given a speech emphasising the importance of open justice and publicly-available judgments – just as the Government continues with its attempt to push through secret courts plans which would threaten both.

In a speech given this week entitled “No Judgment – No Justice,” concerning the importance of public access to court judgements and the reasons for those judgements, Lord Neuberger said that:

“[O]ur commitment to open justice…underpins the rule of law” and emphasised that “judicial decisions…without reasons are certainly not justice: indeed, they are scarcely decisions at all.”

He added that the “two fundamental requirements of any justice system worthy of the name…are (i) judges giving publicly available, reasoned Judgments and (ii) the reliable dissemination and reporting of Judgments.”

The comments come as the Government pushes the Justice and Security Bill through its final stages in the Lords.  The Bill would extend secret courts – known as Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) – across the civil justice system.  The result would be that cases would be heard in secret and closed judgements – in which the reason for the outcome is withheld from the public – would be handed down.  Despite the Government being defeated on certain amendments last night, the proposals for CMPs remain in the Bill.

Commenting, Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said:

“The Supreme Court President’s comments on the importance of open justice come at an interesting time, with the Government currently trying to push plans for secret, closed courts through the House of Lords.

“Lord Neuberger is absolutely right when he says that a judgement given without reasons is not justice. But this is precisely what would happen in a secret court: people would lose their cases without knowing why, as the Government would not let them see the evidence used against them. The judgements themselves would also be secret, and so would not add to the body of case law accessible to lawyers and the public.

“Secret justice is not justice at all. The Government’s attempt to overturn centuries-old legal freedoms must be stopped.”

ENDS

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: donald.campbell[AT]reprieve.org.uk

2. The full text of Lord Neuberger’s speech can be found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/docs/speech-121120.pdf

3. The Government was last night defeated on votes concerning amendments to its plans for secret courts – set out in the Justice and Security Bill.  The amendments would however still leave the proposals for secret courts – known as Closed Material Procedures – in the Bill, after an attempt to strip them out altogether was defeated.  Further information on the Bill can be found here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/investigations/secret_justice