Lord Justice Goldring seeks to silence Magistrate bloggers
Magistrates or Justices of the Peace constitute a distinctly English approach to the dispensing of summary justice and have been doing so for some 650 years. They are classified as members of the judiciary but are unremunerated and are appointed as representative of the community in which they work or live. As such, they are drawn from backgrounds as diverse as the population as a whole. Their interests are equally diverse: amongst these 25,000 JPs, about four or five write regular anonymous or pseudonymous blogs on their experiences in the courtroom and topics of similar interest. These literary efforts have provided even His Grace with knowledge of which he would otherwise have been unaware (especially that of the excellent Justice of the Peace). Indeed, His Grace is well known for his appreciation that a common law is essential for the temporal and spiritual well being of his communicants and all people.
It would appear that the aforementioned Senior Presiding Judge is of a different opinion.
Last week he issued the following guidance:-
Blogging by Judicial Office HoldersBeing unaware of any judge who is blogging anonymously on the law, it would appear that this so-called guidance is aimed at silencing those few magistrates who have given the public an insight into the day-to-day workings of the courts, warts and all. His Grace must assume that the good Lord Goldring is as familiar with the European Convention of Human Rights Article 10 as His Grace is with the Gospel of St Luke. For those who are not cognisant, the Article says:
This guidance is issued on behalf of the Senior Presiding Judge and the Senior President of Tribunals. It applies to all courts and tribunal judicial office holders in England and Wales, and is effective immediately.
A “blog” (derived from the term “web log”) is a personal journal published on the internet. “Blogging” describes the maintaining of, or adding content to, a blog. Blogs tend to be interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments. They may also contain links to other blogs and websites. For the purpose of this guidance blogging includes publishing material on micro-blogging sites such as Twitter.
Judicial office holders should be acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves, both in and out of court, in such a way as to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary.
Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, officer holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.
The above guidance also applies to blogs which purport to be anonymous. This is because it is impossible for somebody who blogs anonymously to guarantee that his or her identity cannot be discovered.
Judicial office holders who maintain blogs must adhere to this guidance and should remove any existing content which conflicts with it forthwith. Failure to do so could ultimately result in disciplinary action. It is also recommended that all judicial office holders familiarise themselves with the new IT and Information Security Guidance which will be available shortly.
Article 10 – Freedom of expressionIt would therefore appear that this 'guidance' is issued 'for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary'. This being accepted, it follows that a magistrate cannot blog without negating the meaning of that phrase. This approach by Lord Goldring appears to be in conflict with that of Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbiry, Master of the Rolls, who, in a speech on 16th Marcch 2011, said: "The importance of open justice arises from the role it plays in supporting the rule of law. Public scrutiny of the courts is an essential means by which we ensure that judges do justice according to law, and thereby secure public confidence in the courts and the law.”
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
His Grace has experienced the effects of the law misguided, and it would seem that similar forces are at work in the edict of the Senior Presiding Judge. It would be beneficial for His Lordship and the people of this nation if he were to revise his 'guidelines' such that magistrate-volunteers might retain their traditional freedoms while maintaining their confidence in him. Responsible blogging magistrates should not be threatened into silence on pain of removal from office.