A piece in the Law Society Gazette says the “demise” of traditional local newspapers is one of a number of factors which means the UK is “failing” open justice tests.
The Gazette is a weekly trade magazine for solicitors published by the Law Society of England and Wales.
The claim, in a piece by news editor Michael Cross, comes after research conducted at King’s College London last year found there were “far fewer journalists” covering public bodies including courts.
Michael, who began his career on the Surrey Advertiser in the 1970s, wrote: “With the demise of traditional local newspapers, many magistrates’ courts are already operating effectively in secret.
“Even court listings are not routinely available except to approved newspaper editors, despite a Criminal Procedure Rule Committee recommendation three years ago that they be published online.”
The Open Justice Charter has already won the backing of American defence lawyer Dean Strang, pictured above left, whose work defending murder convict Steven Avery was documented in Netflix TV series Making a Murderer.
The five-part charter calls for:
* Recordings of all court proceedings to be available free of charge. The unavailability of a complete recording of the trial should in itself be grounds for appeal
* Police documentation to be available to the defence unless the police can give the trial judge a specific valid justification for non-disclosure
* Individuals seeking to appeal a conviction should be granted controlled access to exhibits and evidence for forensic examination
* Journalists should generally be allowed to visit prisoners with the consent of the prisoner. Where this is disallowed, the burden of proof should be on the prison governor
* Materials obtained or produced by the Criminal Cases Review Commission should be made available to representatives of applicants
In the King’s College report, authors Gordon Ramsay and Martin Moore urged more research to be undertaken into claims of a “growing democratic deficit” in the provision and diversity of local news, claiming increased overall readership of local news brands via their digital operations has not led to an increase in “on-the-ground” reporting.
It read: “From a democratic perspective there are three clear differences between the digital news sites and their print predecessors. The increase in digital readership has not been accompanied by an increase in the on-the-ground reporting of local news.
“There are not more journalists covering local councils, courts, schools or hospitals. In fact there are indications that far fewer journalists are doing this.
“Consequently there has been no increase in the (already diminished) public interest journalism reaching these increased readerships.”