Written evidence from Jonathan Hall QC



Please note that I am submitting this in my capacity as a practicing barrister, and not in my capacity as Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.


For some years I have acted for public bodies in asset recovery cases involving wealthy and sometimes high-profile individuals, many of whom seek anonymity or apply for details to be withheld from the public. Even though anonymity is usually refused eventually, the effect is that, at least for a period of time, the media are unable to access and report information on the case as it progresses. Domestic and international NGOs (typically campaigning on anti-corruption) who wish to follow cases of this nature are also affected. It is because of this experience that I am responding to the call for evidence.


My submission addresses two of the issues raised by the Committee.



Firstly, case lists should be published online for all courts, including magistrates’ courts.


Secondly, attention should be given to how cases are listed. Sometimes it is necessary for cases to be listed anonymously (for example, A v B, to avoid pre-empting an application for anonymity, or to protect an important public interest). But depending on the course of the case, it may be possible to give more information the next time the case is listed: this may enable the media to identify when cases of interest are to be heard and gives them, if they choose, the opportunity to apply to the court for more information.


Thirdly, attention needs to be given to the risk that applications for anonymity are adjourned, or rejected but granted in part to allow an appeal to be mounted without any clear timeframe. Otherwise it is possible for parties to parlay an unmeritorious application for anonymity into de facto anonymity for a considerable period of time before it is finally rejected.


Fourthly, attention is needed to establish a record of what documents are before the court, so that the media is better able to request access to documents, whether or not referred to in open court. This is particularly relevant in remote hearings, where poor sound quality or technical interruptions can make it necessary to shorten oral argument and rely more heavily on written documents. 



Remote hearings and new technology provide for risks and opportunities.


Because remote hearings make it easier for parties to appear before the court at short notice, the risk is that important cases could be listed and disposed of at even shorter notice to the media, who will have less opportunity to attend and report.


The opportunity is that the media may be able to attend more hearings if provision is made for them to attend remotely. The decline of the court reporter and the local newspaper is well-known. In principle, the media (if necessary accredited) should be able to attend all cases remotely.



October 2021