Training given to judges by external providers must be opened to public scrutiny, the Information Tribunal heard last week.
The Judicial College, which provides training for judges and magistrates, is not currently subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The college and the Ministry of Justice say details of the training must be kept from the public in order to preserve judicial independence.
The Information Tribunal was hearing a challenge to the exemption brought by Maya Forstater, the claimaint in a high-profile and controversial employment case concerning trans rights. Barrister Naomi Cunningham, for Forstater, told the tribunal that exemption creates the risk of judges being ’quietly nobbled behind the scenes in secret training’. Judges should decide cases based on the evidence they hear, not on the views of pressure groups, she argued.
For the MoJ and the Judicial College, barrister Ravi Mehta argued that the scope of the Freedom of Information Act is 'relevant public authorities' and the college is not a public authority. That was a matter for parliament to decide, he said.
The Judicial College, established in 2011 is an arm’s length body that sits within the Judicial Office. Some of the training it provides is by judges and some by external bodies. The college initially answered FOI questions, but in 2014 the Information Commissioner ruled that it was not covered by the FOI regime.
Information requests rebuffed by the Judicial College include a demand to know what proportion of judges had received training in sexual abuse and consent since the president of the Family Division said this should be mandatory.
The Information Tribunal’s decision was reserved.