Like so many attempts to reform any British institutions, the rapidly approaching reality of a “Supreme Court” has split opinion between those excited by the prospect of modernisation, and those nostalgic for the quirky obscurity of the past.

Some lawyers have said they will miss the House of Lords: the ritual of entering through ‘Black Rod’s Gate’, following the rabbit warren of passages of the Palace of Westminster to the charismatic Robing Room – where the elite advocate was marked out from the rest by the lofty privilege of possessing his or her own specially named coat peg. Under the old system, they argue, charm and obscurity ruled in equal measure…

Members of the public trying to watch a case were frequently late, delayed no doubt by the confusion of queuing for security checks at the building’s tourist-logged public entrance and then searching for a seemingly random corridor of committee rooms where hearings were held.

Journalists were regularly frustrated by the small capacity of the rooms – which, it was often remarked – seemed wildly at odds with the constitutional significance of the cases they were trying to report. There were no designated seats – reporters fought it out with visiting students – no powerpoints for laptops, and definitely no wi-fi access. The closest thing to a press room for urgent filing after a hearing was the Prét a Manger in Trafalgar Square. And even the most devoted follower of the law lords struggled to put all 12 names to the right face, hardly assisted by the tiny signs on the panel in front.

If this sounds archaic it was trumped entirely by the difficulty in obtaining the single most important aid to reporting cases – the papers.

Watching a case without having seen the papers is like trying to follow a film having missed the first half. Oral argument follows skeleton arguments, key facts and legal points are set out in the statements of case.

There is no system in the English courts for routinely obtaining these, but there are several reasons why their inaccessibility is uniquely problematic in proceedings before the UK’s highest appellate body.

 First of all the cases heard by the Supreme Court will frequently relate to fundamental issues of law, public interest and constitutional importance. In a democracy that claims to be modern and transparent, the lack of access to the nuts and bolts of this process is hard to justify.

Secondly, the work of monitoring these cases, and communicating them with the public falls to journalists, who should be assisted in reporting them. And thirdly, the cases which appear before the Supreme Court are not only the most important but also often the most complex, making that assistance even more essential if they are to reported accurately.

On the eve of its inauguration, the officials behind the Supreme Court have repeated their excitement at the court’s potential to “transform the public’s awareness of justice at the highest level”.

“One of the Court’s fundamental aims is to be as transparent as possible in its judgments and proceedings”, they state in a press release issued today. 

“For the first time, we have a clear separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive in the United Kingdom”, added Lord Phillips. “This is important. It emphasises the independence of the judiciary, clearly separating those who make the law from those who administer it.”

For journalists, focus is on the more mundane. There is seating. There is a press room. There is wi-fi. And details of the cases themselves? We live in hope.

Afua Hirsch was a barrister, and is now the Guardian’s legal affairs correspondent. Her latest feature in The Guardian, on Ehud Barack’s diplomatic immunity, is here. You can also follow her on Twitter.