HC Deb 22 March 1988 vol 130 c67W
Mr. Ward

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement concerning openness in the proceedings of magistrates courts and the possible scope for improved access to the records of such proceedings.

Mr. Hurd

My noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and I are concerned about the allegations of insufficient openness in the magistrates courts which have been published recently in the press and the survey by the Association of British Editors on which they are based.

It is a well-established principle that, subject to certain exceptions, the administration of justice in this country should take place in open court, to which the public and the press have access, and that any attempt by anyone to circumvent this principle is to be condemned. My noble and learned Friend and I have arranged for officials of our two Departments to meet representatives of the press, the Magistrates Association and the Justices Clerks Society to discuss relations between magistrates courts and the press relevant to the reporting of proceedings, including access to the records.

I should add that, though I am in no position to comment on them, I understand that the details of the cases mentioned in recent allegations in the press are not accepted as accurate by the clerks of the courts concerned, and that a complaint has been made to the Press Council.