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Opinion column: Open Justice

20 February 12

Organisers of the project to increase public understanding of the Scottish courts, explain how Open Justice Week will work

by James Doleman, Cristiana Theodoli

As legal professionals will know, a civilian’s view of how the law works is full of half truths and misconceptions. While there isn’t a single solution to this issue, we believe that shining a light on the various aspects of the criminal and civil courts can help.

That is why we decided that providing a snapshot of the legal system in 2012 could help the public better understand what happens in their name, and give an opportunity to those involved in the system on a daily basis to tell their stories to a wider audience. Our aim in the Open Justice project is to make the justice system more visible through a series of articles covering all of its facets.

Open Justice Week, which we devised between us, runs from 27 February. We will be having people from all walks of life, going to court and writing about their experiences and perceptions of the process.

As journalists, we tend to see the system from an outsider’s point of view – targeting headlines and bylines. However the law’s applications are not always black or white: more often they consist of shades of grey. It would be difficult for us to create a fully rounded account of the justice system without the input of legal professionals, and as the project takes shape, we are inviting solicitors and advocates to contribute in any way they can, discussing their day-to-day experiences and the challenges they face. We are also in talks with the Scottish Court Service, the judiciary, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to arrange for their views to be portrayed.

Since our launch at the end of January, the level of support and interest has been overwhelming. The editor of the law section of The Guardian News and Media, Ros Taylor, has been unstinting in her support, and arranged for the project to be praised in the paper and online. The Firm magazine is actively assisting us; the Glasgow University newspaper, The Glasgow Guardian, is supporting Open Justice Week; and we are in talks with a number of other organisations to both contribute to the collection of articles and to promote a more visible and transparent justice system.

We know there are concerns about sending untrained or semi-trained people into court hearings, which could lead to problems around contempt of court and defamation, and it is important to stress that the plan is to highlight what happens in our courts without interfering with the proper administration of justice. To avoid any issues, we will provide legal briefing and advice to those planning to write from the courts, which will cover both contempt and defamation as well as advice on court etiquette.

It is difficult to know in advance what the pieces produced will be. We will be selecting participants with care from those who get in touch, and we are confident that we will have many worthwhile articles to choose from.

We will also be sure to screen all articles before they are posted, although, of course, we don’t expect any contributions from the Law Society of Scotland Journal’s readers to cause any problems in this area.

Open Justice Week will launch on 27 February, with the best writing submitted to be posted on a dedicated website. The Guardian will also select pieces for publication. If you are interested in getting involved, we would love to hear from you. You can email us at openjusticeuk@gmail.com or tweet us: @oj_uk

 
James Doleman is author of the widely acclaimed Tommy Sheridan trial blog, which aimed to provide a comprehensive and objective account of the perjury trial. Cristiana Theodoli is a freelance Glasgow court reporter, who also co-founded and organises the Scottish Press Club.
 
w: openjusticeuk.blogspot.com; Twitter: @oj_uk

 

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