AddThis SmartLayers

Judge sounds warning over access to court documents

Reporters in Scotland may be stopped from accessing certain information relating to court cases, the country’s top judge has warned.

Lord President and Lord Justice General Brian Gill has taken the unprecedented step because of “significant concerns” over public disclosures of cases going through the country’s court system.

Now a planned new electronic-based move will provide “sufficient information for reporting purposes” but ensure that the courts will comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act, says Lord Gill.

Seen as a major policy statement, the judge has put his name to a Scottish Court Service website ‘proclamation’ on how the process of advance accessing of court documents will be handled in future.

The website states: “For some time the Court has been reviewing the practice of allowing journalists an opportunity to see complaints and indictments for note-taking purposes before cases call in court.”

The judge claims the current practice already gives journalists an opportunity to attend and report on noteworthy cases; but the information being disclosed is “excessive”.

He cites unspecified “recent breaches” and “irresponsibilities” in the understanding between courts and the media on how cases are reported in the press – making reference to the Data Protection Act 1998 as a reason for blocking transparency in court activities.

Lord Gill ends by saying that current practices will only continue “on the strict understanding that no information obtained from a complaint or indictment is to be published before a case calls in court”.

Independent law journalist and reform campaigner Peter Cherbi said: “The move by Lord Gill to censor media access to court documents and public reporting of criminal or civil cases often stuck in courts for years at huge expense to taxpayers and litigants, comes after increasing questions from the media and the Scottish Parliament on the inadequate state of Scotland’s justice system.”

The journalist, who writes an incisive blog entitled A Dairy of Injustice in Scotland, added: “It is clear Lord Gill’s sweeping judicial notice – widely being interpreted as a major policy statement from Scotland’s top judge, has come about with little open debate, discussion or consultation with Parliament.”