Don’t tell him, Pike!
Our current government is so transfixed by transparency it’ll probably turn holographic any moment.
Think about the benefits: we can airbrush Michael Gove, ministers can avoid actually having to meet the public and we’ll finally get to see the Men in Black-style alien controlling Jeremy Hunt from the inside. Of course, no government actually wants transparency - it would be like a teenage boy inviting his parents to look under his bed - but desperately needs to be seen to be transparent.
The courts are not immune from this buzzword, with legislation looking likely in next month’s Queen’s Speech to relax the rules on filming in court. Witnesses, victims and even defendants won’t have to touch up their make-up yet, but judgments will be filmed in full and beamed into your living room, like Skyping an uncle with an odd taste in wigs and a fascination with crime.
Of course, this will satisfy nobody. The pitchfork-wavers won’t get heads on a spike (they won’t even see the faces) and the reactionaries will lament another erosion of our sacred court tradition. Still, at least Sky News gets its pound of flesh. Television coverage of courtroom drama (a misnomer - of course the vast majority of court ‘action’ is tedious to the outside observer) has already started in Scotland. High Court judge Lord Bracadale was filmed this week sentencing the convicted murderer David Gilroy in Edinburgh. The legal world has not imploded as a result, but neither will the doubters have been placated.
While the government is keen to treat our courts like a state-funded Big Brother, it seems not everyone in the profession is so keen on transparency. This week it was claimed that increasing numbers of lawyers in court are declining to give their full name to press reporters.
The journalists claim their job is being made impossible by a minority of obstinate solicitors who give clerks just their surname or firm name. The reporter has to resort to ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’, leaving reports either to resemble something out of the Pickwick Papers or, because editors have rules about these things, to be cut entirely. Of course, raising the plight of journalists in the current climate is as thankless as task as appealing for child benefit increases under King Herod. But there’s an important issue here: solicitors are vital cogs in the delivery of justice (and if working for the Crown Prosecution Service they are also publicly funded) and they cannot hide from their responsibility.
Certain professions have to be open to public scrutiny - including my own. This is a non-negotiable part of the contract and is something solicitors have to accept. They may have lost a case, but that is immaterial. We need the full identities of the entire cast, not a few surnames or agents’ numbers.
Don’t believe me? Then simply listen to the government, which amended the Criminal Procedure Rules to last year that prosecutors and the defence are identified. This trend (and it should be noted, the vast majority of lawyers are obedient) is anathema to ministers’ fervour for transparency. Some solicitors might just need reminding how open we’re now supposed to be.
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