Anonymising court judgments 'leaches democratic and public accountability from the law’, the lord chief justice has said in a speech strongly backing the principle of open justice. Lord Burnett of Maldon also backed ’a measured expansion of livestreaming and broadcasting of proceedings more widely’.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Judges and Magistrates’ Association conference in Brisbane, Australia, the lord chief pointed to 'a move in some jurisdictions, based perhaps on a technical interpretation of developments in data protection law, to anonymise almost all judgments’. Earlier this summer, the Court of Justice of the European Union said that its official publications would no longer identify individuals in requests for preliminary rulings. Meanwhile last month it emerged that a litigant in person had concealed his identity during a Queen's Bench Division hearing despite an order from a judge to identify himself.
Criticising this type of approach, Lord Burnett said it might lead to 'a regrettable degree of abstraction in the law. Abstraction that undermines the accessibility of proceedings and abstraction that leaches democratic and public accountability from the law.'
Rather, 'We should seek to reinvigorate public accessibility, subject to any necessary restrictions where openness would itself undermine the administration of justice. Reinvigoration may be done through the greater use of online publication of judgments, and online broadcasting of hearings. I look forward to a measured expansion of livestreaming and broadcasting of proceedings more widely.'
Building public confidence in justice is particularly important at a time when judges are threatened with a 'culture of contempt for the judiciary, judicial independence and the rule of law', Lord Burnett said. As an example he cited the Daily Mail's 2016 'enemies of the people' headline. This was 'a phrase used by tyrants throughout history to justify the persecution and death of those who do not toe the line,' he said. 'There were other remarkably inappropriate things said by people who should have known better.'
He called for Commonwealth judges to stand together to safeguard judicial independence.