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Guardian tribunal decision is ‘outrageous’, says FOI campaigner

June 15th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Journalism, Press freedom and ethics

The Guardian has had its four-year campaign for the release of information about misbehaving members of the judiciary rejected by a Freedom of Information (FOI) tribunal.

The paper had been working on the request since 2005, reporter Rob Evans told Journalism.co.uk in March, and was challenging ‘secret justice’ and asking for a more accountable judiciary.

“We are trying to create a precedent for this kind of information to be released. In the past the government has always kept it as a kind of secret. They have always been very reluctant to release information about naughty judges,” said Evans as the case went to tribunal.

But today the tribunal, led by David Marks QC, ruled in favour of Justice Secretary Jack Straw and suggested that releasing information on when judges, magistrates and coroners had been disciplined could be disruptive to courts and the legal process.

The tribunal was ‘”impressed” by the Ministry of Justice’s argument that judges were entitled to a “reasonable expectation of privacy”‘, according to a report in the Guardian.

“This is an outrageous decision. Judges are highly paid public servants whose conduct in court and, to an extent, out of court must be above reproach,” Evans told Journalism.co.uk today.

“It is fundamental that the public should know how complaints against judges are resolved and the reasons why particular judges have been reprimanded or sacked. Why is Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, covering this information up? He seems to have learnt nothing from the MPs expenses’ debacle.”

The ministry has said it will be more open about the sacking of judges in the future as a result of the Guardian’s campaign. However, taking the full FOI request any further would entail high court action – an expensive procedure.

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Press Gazette: UK government to assess time limits for online libel

February 12th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

The UK government will re-examine a 160-year-old legal precedent that means there is not time limit for individuals wanting to sue publishers for online libel, Justice Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday.

Full story at this link…

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Scotsman.com: TV cameras to be allowed in UK Supreme Court

February 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

Justice Secretary Jack Straw told parliament yesterday that judgments from the soon-to-be-created UK Supreme Court could be televised.

The proposals were anticipated by media law commentator Joshua Rozenberg’s thoughts on the Supreme Court in his interview with Journalism.co.uk.

Full story at this link…

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‘Accredited media’ not yet defined, Ministry of Justice tells Journalism.co.uk

December 17th, 2008 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Legal, Online Journalism

UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s proposals to ‘lift the veil,’ and open family courts to the media, bring with them a range of issues, as discussed by the Telegraph’s Joshua Rozenberg.

One of which is the question of what defines the category of ‘accredited media’? Will it include online-only publications, for example?

Journalism.co.uk rang the Ministry of Justice to find out what will constitute ‘accredited media’. A spokesperson said it is currently ‘being decided’ and will be announced ‘once rules are finally agreed’. “It is part of the decision making process,” he said.

What’s the time-frame? Journalism.co.uk asked. Along with other parts of the proposal, final rules will be established by April 2009, the ministry spokesperson said.

As Rozenberg commented, this is a significant part of the proposals. Rozenberg wrote:

” … Mr Straw does not seem to have given enough thought to what constitutes the modern media.

“If I decide to write about legal affairs on my own website, am I a freelance journalist who should be allowed access to the courts or a blogger who should not? And who is to decide?

“Mr Straw’s officials pointed out that press seats at criminal trials are allocated by court officials. But those denied such seats can usually attend as members of the public. That option would not be available here.

“Journalism is not a profession, in the sense of an occupation with controlled entry such as law or architecture. Anyone can call himself or herself a journalist. It is therefore essential that the final decision on who may attend the family courts as a journalist is one for the courts themselves, not officials.”

(Hat tip to Jon Slattery, who also flagged up the issues on his blog.)

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