Full Fact is a non-profit fact-checking organisation based in the UK, which has given oral and written evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. Part of its submission on ‘The internet and the Inquiry’ [PDF] concerns access to judicial information, which Full Fact has kindly given me permission to reproduce here, as a contribution to an ongoing discussion at the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (the ‘Open Justice in the Digital Era’ project, http://bit.ly/openjustice). Full Fact’s full Leveson submission can be found here.
Full Fact: Access to public platforms – an opportunity
One of the effects of the new found ease of access to public platforms has been that certain public bodies have been able to throw open their work to the public.
- Parliament, particularly with Hansard and broadcasting (and the independent TheyWorkForYou.com for text and BBC Democracy Live for video)
- Government, which publishes everything from white papers to press releases and transcripts of press conferences
- Office for National Statistics and official statistics producers generally
- Academic research is increasingly freely available online
- The Supreme Court, with video, judgments and its exemplary press summaries of judgments
The decline of court reporting has long been lamented. It has been rued repeatedly during the Inquiry. Through our work we understand why, and what a gap is being left as this staple journalism declines. Nonetheless, it is not coming back. It is therefore essential that the rest of the court system, and particularly the criminal courts, stop being the glaring exception and start to follow the examples given above.
Factchecking sentencing remarks is currently all but impossible even when they become a subject of national controversy. Several papers recently ran stories like ‘Muslim women not used to drinking walk free after attack on woman’. It was an eye-catching claim that we wanted to factcheck (see: FullFact 2011)
Unfortunately, the judiciary was unwilling or incapable of commenting on the reported version of events, or on what was said by the judge in his sentencing remarks. Sentencing is constantly under heavy scrutiny and criticism and it seems to us that sentencing remarks should be recorded and published online. That would not replace traditional court reporting but it would improve on the growing vacuum in this area. Open justice in this century must mean more than merely being able to walk into the courtroom.
The more direct access to official sources is made easy, the greater the social pressure for good journalism. Moreover, having official and primary sources available online provides a foundation from which assessable and trustworthy journalism can be built up.
Source: Full Fact 2012, p. 7-8 [PDF]. Format altered and emphasis added in this post.