Written evidence from Mr David Sarwar

As an outdoor clerk in criminal law courts my main job was to attend Crown Court with the client and take handwritten notes. Notes could also be taken on a laptop computer. I used to call in a report every day on the telephone to the solicitor who had conduct of the case in my firm. The handwritten notes of the proceedings were used to refresh Counsel’s memory of what was said in the case and to inform my firm of what had happened in court. They were attached to the paper file on the case in the office later.

This can still be done; privately funded, on Legal Aid or Pro Bono using the Common Platform to register ones attendance in court.

I think that if it were being done today more use would be made of the laptop computer. A transcript of the cae is issued later as a Crown Court is a court of record. My notes included notes of meetings in court with the cient and his or her lawyers that were confidential as they took place in litigation.

Court reporters do a similar thing in the case of the actua proceedings rather than the meetings and their reports are published rather than retained by the firm. Their role is more to ensre Open Justice is maintained and the public are informed of proceedings taking place and their outcomes.

In a digital world using computers the whole process is more opaque because of the invisible computer messaging. It uses less paper and makes use of different skills to use the computer. This can be reflected in the Digital Divide in skillsets in society. BCS members have it in their code of conduct to assist in bridging the Digital Divide. I am an Affiliate Member of the BCS with a European Computer Driving Licence and an ITQ at Level 2.

Court reports are often held behind a paywall in the newspapers and, in any case, the connection with the computer must be maintained to read the report. However, it is less voluminous to store as it is stored on electronic media. This has effects in browsing information when a person is not sure what he or she is looking for. The days of looking over the titles of reports on paper on shelves seem to be over. Reports summarising some Crown Court cases are published on the Judiciary website as well as in publishers’, newspapers and lawyers’ reports.

In the past the general public used to be able to attend in court and sit in the gallery to watch provided they did not disturb proceedings. This was regarded as an essential part of Open Justice as the public could come and see justice being done. Law students would also attend to learn court procedure. I know that HMCTS try to facilitate access to the courts for court reporters and the public during the digitisation process but it is increasingly difficult to see how online courts and remote hearings can support the kind of public involvement in Open Justice that there has been in the past. Even though the results may be published by court reporters in newspapers and journals the opportunity for the public to observe courts from the gallery may be restricted.

 

25th September 2021