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.