An interesting post on the UK Human Rights blog the other day looks at the way that the Supreme Court, with its twitter account, summaries of cases and videoing of arguments, is developing a welcome level of accessibility and suggesting that the Court of Appeal and High Court adopts this. I can only agree; the more access people have to the law the better. After all, whilst ignorance of the law is no excuse and all that, in this day and age, the law is so complicated, inaccessible and vast that even full time lawyers struggle to keep up to date in their own niche field (see, as an example, some of the customs tobacco smuggling cases).
The only argument against televising appellate courts that I can see is that I don’t fancy seeing myself on tele, which isn’t a great argument. Not that I tend to do cases of interest to anyone but myself.
This week, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Judge Walker’s judgment on prop 8 (it’s obviously a very welcome judgment and from an English legal perspective, a good reminder of how precarious our respect for the rule of law is relative to our American cousins, but that’s for a different post). What was really interesting was the wealth of documents that were available in relation to it; evidence, previous rulings on the case and written submissions for starters. And all their judgments are posted online for free.
Is this something that we should adopt? There would obviously be some cases where the material would have to be limited (sexual offences being an obvious example), but in general this would be a great way for the public to understand not just what the law is, but why it is that way and inform debate. The Guardian is currently going to the Court of Appeal over disclosure of skeleton arguments in an extradition case and it will be interesting to see how that goes. Surely it can only help the press and public understand what is going on in court if copies of the grounds of appeal and skeleton arguments are published alongside a judgment?
It would also be a great resource for lawyers and litigants in person (of whom, with increasing cutbacks, there will be many more of), but that’s just an added bonus.