Mr Justice Tugendhat makes very interesting observations about reserved judgments and open justice, in a judgment on whether a defendant is in breach of prior undertakings relating to tawdry publications about the parents of Madeline McCann:
The decision not to identify in a reserved judgment a fact or person that has been identified in open court is not a reporting restriction, nor any other derogation from open justice. The hearing of this committal application was in public in the usual way. The decision not to set out everything in a judgment is simply a decision as to how the judge chooses to frame the judgment (¶86)
I have previously written about discussions taking place about the privacy and data protection implications of electronic publication of lists from magistrates’ courts, and I also wrote a thesis (NEVER to see the light of day thank you very much) which attempted in part to deal with the difficulties of anonymisation in court documents. These seem to me to be very urgent, and tremendously difficult, considerations for the subject of open justice in the digital era (the title of the initiative, led by Judith Townend, to “make recommendations for the way judicial information and legal data are communicated in a digital era”).
The judgment continues with Tugendhat J observing that, in previous cases where he has referred to parties by initials in reserved judgments this has sometimes been misinterpreted as his having made an anonymity order. Not true: the proceedings themselves were in open court, but
what happens in court, if not reported at the time, may be ephemeral, and may soon be forgotten and become difficult to recover, whereas a reserved judgment may appear in law reports, or on the internet, indefinitely (¶87)
This is a crucial point. My concern has always been about the permanence of information published on the internet, and the potential for it to be used, and abused, in ways and under jurisdictions, which would make a mockery of, for instance, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and the Data Protection Act 1998.
I haven’t noted the judge’s comments for any particular reason, other than I think they helpfully illustrate some important points, and might provoke some discussion.