I’m currently doing a bit of reading around the openness of courts and legal data, and have really enjoyed Heather Brooke’s chapter on ‘Secret Justice’ in her second book (hat-tip: Jack of Kent for alerting me to her research on this). Brooke has also written a similar article based on another experience, for the Times (links to the de-paywalled version).
I’ll come back to transparency issues in another post, but before that I want to share one of Brooke’s observations that made me laugh. When I first encountered the rigmarole a member of public has to go through to access the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court), I couldn’t believe it. The staff member actually suggested that we pay to leave our mobile phones in the shop across the road (for a very small fee). Our grand and severe legal system can have such bizarre quirks. At the time – a few years back – I wondered if there was a colour feature to be written about it.
Well, Brooke has beaten me to it in her book. From p 154, ‘The Silent State':
“I head up a narrow staircase surrounded by chartreuse walls to a guard waiting beside a metal detector. He says no phones or large bags allowed. What about writing? Can I take in my notepad? He says I can but there is no storage for the forbidden items such as my phone. He says there is a sandwich shop across the road or a bar further along the street when I can leave the items for a charge.”
Brooke then investigates: it turns out that Murat Mert, the owner of the sandwich shop, inherited this system from his predecessor, but business isn’t what it was: fewer people are coming to court.
Maybe they’re all at home playing ‘You Be the Judge’, an online interactive game launched by the Ministry of Justice earlier this year, in which users assess cases for themselves – and see if they agree with the judge’s ruling. This week the MoJ added some new scenarios based on real cases, but I was disappointed they don’t include libel or privacy cases. That would have been interesting.