Published on Society of Editor’s website on 16th November 2009:
Conservative Government on Free Speech
The Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve today claimed that the crisis in British justice is so stark that it teeters on the brink of collapse.
Mr Grieve said urgent change is required to the justice system in order for there to be greater transparency in both the courts and in government.
Speaking to the Society of Editors’ conference, he warned: “I don’t want to sound apocalyptic but we are in fact facing a serious crisis in the administration of justice which is teetering on the brink between passable efficiency and collapse.”
In laying out his blueprint for rejuvenating British justice, the Shadow Justice Secretary revealed that a Conservative government would advocate a third party body to report court cases in greater detail and that it is “interested” in the idea of press accreditation for certain family courts.
He also outlined plans to bring in more money to sustain the justice system by a Contingency Legal Aid Fund or private insurance cover for legal costs and expenses.
Mr Grieve explained: “It may be necessary to have a third party body of some kind to help disseminate greater information about procedure and proceedings, with the public interest in mind.
“And we are interested in the idea of press accreditation for certain family courts, so we can build up high levels of trust between the courts and the media.
“This is all sensitive terrain. But I hope it gives you a sense that we are inclined towards greater transparency where it will do no harm to children.
“My Shadow Justice team colleague Henry Bellingham has undertaken a review in this area, looking at the detailed implications of these principles.”
Mr Grieve criticised the shortcomings of the current legal system and its growing litigation culture, where lawyers are deliberately encouraged to take an economic stake in the success of their client’s case.
He said: “We will take the opportunity to look at the balance between rights such as freedom and personal privacy. Frivolous litigation that might deter legitimate media comment is always to be deplored.”
Mr Grieve voiced his strong support for freedom of speech as the bedrock of a free society, making reference to the furore caused by BNP leader Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time.
Referring to the programme, he said: “I believe that, unless someone is directly inciting violence or serious disorder, their voice must be heard and if the BBC has rules that allow parties to have air time based on representation, it is a bad precedent to skew those to exclude those whose views we may rightly dislike.”
The Shadow Justice Secretary also defended the right of journalists to expose information that’s a matter of public interest, provided it does not harm national security.
He criticised the Government for preventing a full account of the facts in some recent controversial cases such as the Iraq war, allegations of MI5 collusion in torture, the failures of the intelligence services and police in the lead up to 7/7 and the release of the Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi.
Mr Grieve said: “The approach of this government has been paranoid, vindictive and foolish.”