The lord chief justice has said he never wants to see defendants being tried anonymously in English courts again.
Speaking at his annual press conference this morning, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd called for clearer rules and guidance for keeping evidence and details of trials secret.
His call followed the collapse for undisclosed reasons of a controversial semi-secret trial of a man accused of preparing for acts of terrorism. The defendant, Erol Incedal, was named in June only after the Court of Appeal overturned the government's request to hold the entire trial in secret.
Asked whether this possibility could arise again in the future, Thomas made it clear he wants to see defendants named in all cases. ‘There ought to be clear guidelines and rules so the prospect of an anonymous defendant is one I would hope we never see again in our courts,’ he said.
He outlined that the court must ensure ‘at the earliest stage’ that the press is entitled to make representations and see such material as can be shown so journalists know what the argument is about. ‘I passionately believe in open justice, and justice that is not open is not good justice,’ added Thomas.
In a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from judicial review to the European arrest warrant, Thomas had a clear message for whoever wins the next general election.
Reports this week suggested that civil servants have been asked to identify a further £30bn in public service cuts – with justice spending likely to be under scrutiny again.
Thomas said he did not expect the government’s proposed upgrade of the court infrastructure to be included in any cuts but warned of dire consequences if it was.
‘There is no doubt in my mind we are reaching a situation where if we don’t invest and if that doesn’t go ahead the justice system would face a severe crisis,’ said Thomas. ‘I am doing judgments on Word 2003 which Microsoft is operating by special arrangement. We don’t have a proper system for people to do claims online. It is wholly inadequate.’
Thomas said the judicial system would have to work within prescribed constraints if both major political parties opt not to increase the legal budget.
He added that the legal profession would have to look ‘pretty radically’ at how to administer justice at a reduced cost, although he noted lawyers will still play an ‘indisputable role’.
‘We need to look in certain areas at a more inquisitorial procedure. Do we need to use more online dispute resolution for smaller claims, for example?’