In September 2009, before the Court opened its doors, we set out our “information wish list” – the information that we wanted the Court to make available to the public in its new spirit of openness and public accessibility. Our list had eight items – based on the best practice of Supreme Courts round the world. Four months later, we return to our list to see what progress has been made. 

The first item was a “Judicial Sittings” list which includes full information about the appeal – the unique cite of the decision appealed against, a brief description of the subject matter of the appeal, the identity of the solicitors acting for the parties.   In a speech in September 2009, Chief Executive Jenny Rowe had said that “when everything is working fully key information from the case management system will be accessible via the website.  Well, the court does provide “Case Details” – although these are not made available for every case which is pending before the Court and sometimes only appear shortly before a hearing.

Unfortunately, the details have not always been accurate.  Even where accurate details are provided – for example, these for next week’s appeal in R (JF) v Home Secretary – they are disappointingly incomplete. The citation for the decision appealed against is not provided – which in “alphabet soup” cases sometimes makes it difficult to work out which case is being appealed. The solicitors acting are not identified.  Important information is provided by means of cross references to documents which are not available.  For example, in the JF case in the box “Human Rights raised details” we are told “See Section 9 of grounds”.  As the grounds are not available, we are none the wiser.  The Case Summaries are not easy to read and are sometimes not very clear.  Sometimes information is omitted.  We hope that these details are not the ones on the Court’s own Case Management system – which really needs to be full and accurate.  The Case Details are not yet up to international best practice standards.  So, on this item, although progress has been made there is more to do.

Second, there was the statements of facts and issues and the parties’ written cases.  In contrast to the position in all the other major Supreme Courts of the world, these have not been provided.  It is difficult to see how this can be justified. These are public documents which should be freely available. The parties’ written cases are the equivalent of Skeleton Arguments which are, at least in theory, freely available to the press and public in the lower courts. We do not know why these are not made available in the Supreme Court.  This should not be left to the parties – they are documents read and referred to by the Court at a hearing in open court and should be public.

Third, there is the listing of applications for leave, interim orders and all the other activity of the Court. This has not been done. Towards the end of last term permission decisions were sent by the Court to the ICLR.  They should be published by the Court itself.  In addition, the Court should list interim hearings – this is sometimes done, but not consistently.  The position is now worse that in the old days of the Judicial Committee whose orders were published on the House of Lords website.  It could be done at no significant extra expense and we can see no reason why interim orders, hearings and decisions are not listed.

Fourth, a transcript of the hearings.  Although this is done by most supreme courts in other jurisdictions, and domestically by the Chilcott Inquiry and the Baha Mousa Inquiry there seems to be no prospect of it being done by the Supreme Court.  Although there may be expense issues here, it remains our view that it should be done.  The proceedings of Parliament are transcribed and made publicly available every day and it seems to us that the proceedings of the Supreme Court are at least as important.

Fifth, a webcast of the hearing.  Once again, this has not been done.  Not only is this done by the Canadian Supreme Court does it (see, here) and the Court of Human Rights but the proceedings of parliament are now available as webcasts on a dedicated the BBC website – which even has a search facility.  Perhaps the BBC could be persuaded to extend the site to cover the Court.  Although hearings are filmed very little material has been seen by the public – we do not know whether this is a result of lack of interest on the part of broadcasters or obstacles to access on the part of the Court.  We do note, however, that the Court’s Board of Management Minutes record that work to install the broadcast link to internal TVs is in hand.

Sixth, as much notice as possible of the handing down of judgments.  The Court’s record on this has been patchy.  Sometimes 6 days notice is given (as it was in the House of Lords) but in at least one case last term judgment was given with no notice at all.  Again, we suggest that at least 2 weeks notice could be given.

Seventh, was asked for a “media summary” of the Judgment when it comes out.  This has been done and, we think, done very well.  There has been the odd glitch (and Press Summaries for Privy Council cases are rare) but this is a useful feature and, if the press actually read the summaries, would greatly assist public understanding of decisions.   This wish has been entirely fulfilled.

Eighth, regular “Court Bulletins”, telling us what the Court has done and will be doing, including lists of all the pending cases.  This has not been done.  We continue to think that it would be useful.

Overall, the record is not encouraging.  Although there has been some progress, the overall “information position” is little better than that for the House of Lords.   We hope that progress can be made on the second and third points in the near future and that we will soon be able to see webcasts of the hearings.

We will update our readers on the position at the beginning of next term.