Court documents: Part 2 – the open justice principle

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Hearing documents and the open court principle

 

Part 1 of this series has looked at who may attend family courts and what types of family court hearings. This Part deals with the question of: why should documents be made available for those who attend any court? Part 3 will deal with the important case of Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring (Asbestos Victims Support Group) [2018] EWCA Civ 1795 (‘Cape Intermediate v Dring’); will analyse the documents concerned; and looks at how these may be available for release to non-parties. Finally, Part 4 will apply the law, as explained in the first three Parts, specifically to documents in family proceedings and to non-parties who may attend private hearings; or who may want to see documents later (eg journalists, lawyers, academics or family members – even perhaps a child as the child gets older).

 

In this series documents are categorised as:

 

  • Court documents – Documents ‘from the court records’ (as explained in Cape Intermediate v Dring);
  • Hearing documents – Court documents for which a non-party is entitled to apply: eg to make sense of the proceedings or for a particular journalistic purpose (eg skeleton arguments, parties statements, expert reports etc).
  • Disclosed documents – Use, or other release, of documents whose production has been compelled by disclosure rules.
  • Trial documents – Documents prepared for the judge and at a court hearing.

 

The background to Cape Intermediate v Dring and a review of much that it decided will be considered in Part 3. In approaching his determination of the appeal as to whether and if so what documents from civil court proceedings might be released to non-parties, Hamblen LJ relied extensively on the case law underpinning the open court principle. Since this approach to open justice may to be central to any argument in family proceedings that documents be released this Part will deal with its context in court proceedings.

 

He started by setting out some ‘Well known statements of the principle’ (at [27]) and emphasising that ‘the common law has long recognised the importance of the constitutional principle of open justice’. He drew attention in particular:

 

[27] … Well known statements of the principle and its rationale include:

(1) Lord Shaw in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417 at 477 (citing Jeremy Bentham):

“Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself while trying under trial.”

(2) Lord Diplock in Home Office v Harman [1983] AC 280 at p303:

“…the reason for the rule is to discipline the judiciary – to keep the judges themselves up to the mark – the form that it takes [is] that justice is to be administered in open court where anyone present may listen to and report what was said”.

 

He concluded his short introduction to the open justice principle by reference (at [28]) to the central modern case to this subject: R (Guardian News and Media Ltd) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court [2012] EWCA Civ 420, [2013] QB 618. If there were any doubt on the subject, Cape Intermediate v Dring confirms that the Guardian v Westminster case applies equally to documents in criminal as to civil proceedings. He recalls Toulson LJ’s words where he spoke of the open justice principle:

 

‘[28] … Being “at the heart of our system of justice and vital to the rule of law” and [that he] explained how it enables the rule of law to be policed through “the transparency of the legal process”. He stressed at [2] that it is “not only the individual judge who is open to scrutiny but the process of justice”. It ensures that “judges are accountable in the performance of their judicial duties” and “maintains public confidence in the impartial administration of justice by ensuring that judicial hearings are subject to public scrutiny”.’

 

Later in his judgment Hamblen LJ returns to Guardian v Westminster, when he considered the inherent jurisdiction of the court to order release of documents. He explained that the case concerned a Guardian journalist’s request of a magistrate, refused by her, that he be permitted to read documents the court had read in an extradition case:

 

‘[85] …. [The Guardian] contended that these were documents that would have been pre-read, that it was not possible to understand the full case against those extradited without seeing the documents, and that they were needed for the journalistic purpose of stimulating informed debate about matters of public interest. The [Guardian’s] application was granted on appeal….’

 

Hamblen LJ pointed out that Toulson LJ had said much on the subject of the open justice, such as (quoted by Hamblen LJ at [85]):

 

‘[69] The open justice principle is a constitutional principle to be found not in a written text but in the common law. It is for the courts to determine its requirements, subject to any statutory provision. It follows that the courts have an inherent jurisdiction to determine how the principle should be applied.

[70] Broadly speaking, the requirements of open justice apply to all tribunals exercising the judicial power of the state.’

 

Release of hearing documents

 

Toulson LJ and Hamblen LJ both draw particular attention to a series of cases when it comes to open justice and release of documents; and especially the need for the court to make sure that anyone attending a case is not kept from understanding what is happening because increasingly courts rely on written information read privately by the judge (eg witness statements and expert reports, skeleton arguments and position statements).

 

Toulson LJ referred to a line of authority starting with Lord Scarman – ‘a thinker ahead of his time’ – in Home Office v Harman [1983] 1 AC 280 at 316 on why ‘justice should be done openly’ (at [33]). Lord Scarman said:

 

‘Reasonable expedition is, of course, a duty of the judge [said Lord Scarman]. But he is also concerned to ensure that justice not only is done but is seen to be done in his court. And this is the fundamental reason for the rule of the common law, recognised by this House in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417, that trials are to be conducted in public. Lord Shaw referred with approval, at 477, to the view of Jeremy Bentham that public trial is needed as a spur to judicial virtue. Whether or not judicial virtue needs such a spur, there is also another important public interest involved in justice done openly, namely, that the evidence and argument should be publicly known, so that society may judge for itself the quality of justice administered in its name, and whether the law requires modification. When public policy in the administration of justice is considered, public knowledge of the evidence and arguments of the parties is certainly as important as expedition: and, if the price of expedition is to be the silent reading by the judge before or at trial of relevant documents, it is arguable that expedition will not always be consistent with justice being seen to be done …’

 

Toulson LJ continued (at [34]) by reference to Lord Bingham CJ in Smithkline Beecham Biologicals SA v Connaught Laboratories Inc [1999] EWCA Civ 1781, [1999] 4 All ER 498:

 

‘Since the date when Lord Scarman expressed doubt in Home Office v Harman as to whether expedition would always be consistent with open justice, the practices of counsel preparing skeleton arguments, chronologies and reading guides, and of judges pre-reading documents (including witness statements) out of court, have become much more common. These means of saving time in court are now not merely permitted, but are positively required, by practice directions. The result is that a case may be heard in such a way that even an intelligent and well-informed member of the public, present throughout every hearing in open court, would be unable to obtain a full understanding of the documentary evidence and the arguments on which the case was to be decided.… As the court’s practice develops it will be necessary to give appropriate weight to both efficiency and openness of justice, with Lord Scarman’s warning in mind….’

 

Lord Bingham concluded with the point which, 20 years later, the rules have still not clearly answered (though Hamblen LJ has gone a long way to doing so). He continued:

 

‘… Public access to documents referred to in open court (but not in fact read aloud and comprehensibly in open court) may be necessary, with suitable safeguards, to avoid too wide a gap between what has in theory, and what has in practice, passed into the public domain.’

 

Part 3 will consider what was said in Cape Intermediate v Dring and especially in the light of the above open justice considerations.

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Non-molestation and open court hearings

Is it the law that family court injunctions be heard in open court

 

In A child and the open justice principle I asked why the ‘child’ Charlie Pearce must – rightly, surely? – have his name published after his attempted murder trial (R v Pearce (Press Restrictions) Haddon-Cave J (7 December 2017); whilst, for example, the names be kept private of the parents of the unattractive stalking – and worse – mother and her cohabitant (‘Mr JM’) of 10 year-old T in Re T (A Child) [2017] EWCA Civ 1889 (23 November 2017). I continued: why are parents whose children, at their hands, protected sometimes from serious harm are not named; whereas the name of Mr Khuja (reported on BAILII as ‘PNM’), who investigated for serious crimes but not prosecuted for any offence is made public (Khuja v Times Newspapers Ltd [2017] UKSC 49.

 

Most startlingly, a man (say, ‘R’) can be brought anonymously (ie ‘in private’ or secretly) before the family courts for often dire forms of ‘molestation’ of their partner or children (Family Law Act 1996 (‘FLA 1996’) Pt 4); yet R, if prosecuted, will be dealt with in open court, on the same facts. Are the family courts, it might fairly be asked, trying to keep R’s behaviour secret? Is the ‘scourge’ (as Sir James Munby P has described it) of domestic violence and abuse to be dealt with behind closed family courts’ doors? If R breaches any injunction, this will be dealt with in public – though not in family proceedings – as a criminal offence FLA 1996 s 42A.

 

Family proceedings: hearings ‘in private’

 

The rule in family proceedings since April 2011 is said to be that all proceedings covered by Family Procedure Rules 2010 (‘FPR 2010’), save where otherwise ordered or the rules say something else, are to be in ‘private’ (r 27.10(1)). ‘In private’ means that ‘the general public has no right to be present’ (r 27.10(2)).

 

Two important common law principles are in play here:

 

  • That all hearings must be in open court (Scott & Anor v Scott [1913] UKHL 2, [1913] AC 417; affirmed in eg European Convention 1950 Art 6.1), unless administration of justice or eg the welfare of children (as now summarised in Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (‘CPR 1998’) r 39.2(3)) requires confidential (or ‘private’?) hearing. What is meant by ‘private’ was explained by the Court of Appeal in Clibbery v Allan [2002] EWCA Civ 45, [200] Fam 261, [2002] 2 WLR 1511, [2002] 1 FLR 565
  • The law cannot be changed by a rule save where statute permits: see eg Dunhill v Burgin (Nos 1 and 2) [2014] UKSC 18, [2014] 1 WLR 933 where Lady Hale said at [27]: That rules cannot ‘change the substantive law unless expressly permitted so to do by statute: see Re Grosvenor Hotel Ltd (No 2)[1965] Ch 1210’ (Senior Courts Act 1981 s 51(1) which permits rules to create substantive law on costs is an example of the exception).

 

The passage (italicised below) with which Lady Hale agreed was from Lord Denning MR where he said in Re Grosvenor Hotel, London (No 2) [1965] Ch 1210 at 1243 (of an attempt by rule-makers to change the law on public interest immunity):

 

The truth must be faced that, if this rule is within the powers of the Rule Committee to make, the hands of the judges are tied. They have no option but to act on [what] the Minister or of the permanent head of his department [says]. What then are the powers of the Rule Committee? They can make rules for regulating and prescribing the procedure and practice of the court, but they cannot alter the rules of evidence, or the ordinary law of the land. The law as to Crown privilege is not mere procedure or practice. It may perhaps be said to be a rule of evidence, but I would rank it higher. It is a principle of our constitutional law which is to be observed in the administration of justice, not only when a witness is called to give oral evidence, but also when a party is called upon to give discovery…. If this rule only states the existing law, there is no harm in it. But if it gives the government departments a veto on the production or inspection of documents — to a greater extent than that which is warranted by law — the rule is, in my opinion, bad.

 

Delegated legislation and Parliamentary will

 

At this point one judicial canard – with respect to, for example, MacDonald and Mostyn JJ – must be laid to rest. Both those judges have given judgments which suggest that Parliament have somehow ‘expressly provided’ for a change in the law from open court to private hearings for all family proceedings (save where for eg divorce hearings they are in open court) by the fact that the Lord Chancellor’s Family Procedure Rules Committee has changed the rules.

 

Such express provision of Parliament is not so. Like the majority of delegated legislation, rules are made under the negative resolution procedure (Courts Act 2003 s 79(6)). Only one set of such legislation has been queried by a member of either House in the last 37 years. Courts Act 2003 ss 75 and 76 make it clear that it is the rules committee which makes the rules, not – even under any constitutional law fiction – that Parliament has done the job.

 

Thus in HRH Louis Xavier Marie Guillaume Prince of Luxembourg, Prince of Nassau and Prince of Bourbon-Parma v HRH Tessy Princess of Luxembourg, Princess of Nassau and Princess of Bourbon-Parma & Anor [2017] EWHC 3095 (Fam), Macdonald J said of the rules on a number of occasions words to the effect of:

 

[87] … In this regard, I note again that Parliament has expressly provided in FPR r 27.11(1)(a) for the media to be excluded from hearings conducted for the purpose of judicially assisted conciliation or negotiation…

 

In Appleton & Anor v News Group Newspapers Ltd & Anor [2015] EWHC 2689 (Fam), [2016] 2 FLR 1 Mostyn J spoke of Parliament specifically maintaining proceedings in private (which seems to be in direct opposition to what Lord Denning MR said over 50 years ago: it is rule-makers not Parliament, who – in reality – make the rules):

 

[14] … Parliament when passing the rules specifically maintained these proceedings as private, and denied members of the public admission to them.

[15] … It is inconceivable that Parliament could have intended to destroy the effect of the implied undertaking when it allowed the press to observe these private proceedings as a watchdog….

 

Parliament did not even contemplate the ‘implied undertaking’. It is not mentioned in FPR 2010 at all. It is mentioned in rule form in CPR 1998 r 31.22 (intended to reverse the former rule in Harman v Secretary of State for the Home Department [1983] 1 AC 280, [1982] 2 WLR 338). Formally that rule does not apply in family proceedings. What precisely the ‘implied undertaking’, and whether Harman still applies, in family proceedings is muddled. Probably it is best described, for family proceedings, as in line with CPR 1998 r 31.22 (see discussion in Family Court Practice 2017 under FPR 2010 Pt 21).

 

Rule in Clibbery v Allan

 

Clibbery v Allan [2002] EWCA Civ 45, [200] Fam 261, [2002] 2 WLR 1511, [2002] 1 FLR 565 concerned whether Ms Clibbery could pass documents which she received from the respondent in proceedings under FLA 1996 Pt (an unsuccessful occupation order application), so far as they were not covered by the ‘implied undertaking’ not to release documents required to be produced under compulsion of (then) ‘discovery’. In a frequently cited case and agreeing in the outcome with Munby J below (Clibbery v Allan [2001] 2 FLR 819) the Court of Appeal (Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P with whom Thorpe LJ agreed) held that though the hearing was in ‘private’ documents could be released by Ms Clibbery to the press. Anonymity seems not to have been in issue.

 

Dame Elizabeth explained the term ‘private’ – as distinct from open court and ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ – as follows:

 

[19] … I am driven to recall Humpty Dumpty: ‘When I use a word – it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

[20]   I would therefore suggest that there are three categories of case, those heard in open court, those heard in private and those heard in secret where the information disclosed to the court and the proceedings remain confidential.

 

This tri-partite division remains the common law position in family proceedings; and on the Grosvenor Hotel principle it cannot be changed by delegated legislation. It is not altered by such cases as Appleton v Gallagher and Luxembourg v Luxembourg since these do not apply in the case of Family Law Act 1996 Pt 4.

 

Family Law Act 1996 Part 4, anonymity and ‘private court’ hearings

 

Subject to the ‘implied undertaking’ (or CPR 1998 r 31.22) point, the law would seem to be as in Clibbery v Allan. That as the Court of Appeal had explained in Hodgson v Imperial Tobacco Ltd [1998] 1 WLR 1056, ‘privacy’ means that, space permitting, the public are allowed into a court held in private (after all the words of r 27.10(2) do not prevent asking for permission: that is how it works with any situation where a person has no right, but can ask to come in, all the same).

 

Thus a frightened ex-partner or spouse can invite friends or family to come to court with her. They do not need special permission and the court can be asked to make room for them. Whether the press and others – eg to see how any successor to Prison and Courts Bill cl 47 works in practice – can come into court: that awaits another day, another discussion of this absurdly complex area of law. There seems to be no logic in the same facts being dealt with in ‘private’ (if not in secret) in a family court, but in open court in criminal proceedings; but logic does not rule family law when the open justice principle may apply.

 

And anonymity: surely that cannot truly be in question? The names of mother and Mr JM – especially in the Court of Appeal – should surely be public. To that extent, at least, family courts need not afford secrecy to those who molest or otherwise abuse their partners, children or other members of their family – unless publicity of their names might be jig-saw linked back to any children concerned.