19:13, July 15 140 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-15 19:13:04
Reporting restrictions 'prevent scrutiny' of economic crimes

Excessive court reporting restrictions, inadequate listing information and difficulties in obtaining documents are preventing scrutiny of economic crimes and bribery cases, according to a report by Corruption Watch UK.

A high proportion of hearings are effectively being heard in private because of tight legal controls, and fraud trials are disproportionately affected by such court orders, the study said.

The majority of foreign bribery cases that have come to court in the past two years have been subject to reporting restrictions, according to Corruption Watch.

Cases involving unexplained wealth orders – introduced in January as instruments for targeting illicit and corrupt wealth in the UK – are proceeding in secrecy without adequate monitoring of how they are used, the report said.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is currently unable to publicise two major corporate guilty pleas because of blanket reporting restrictions, it said.

Court lists add to the problems, the report said, because they lack sufficient detail to highlight the significance of cases, are usually only available the afternoon before hearings at the earliest, and their distribution online has been partially privatised, “undermining open justice”.

Corruption Watch said it found that despite the court of appeal ruling that court documents should by default be accessible to the public, they could not usually be obtained in criminal cases without instructing counsel.

“In civil cases,” the report said, “it usually takes weeks to obtain a single document, a process that involves multiple trips to the courthouse and can cost upwards of £50. Transcripts of hearings are also prohibitively expensive, often costing more than £20,000 for a three-week trial. Generally, a UK-based reporter can more easily access documents from any US federal court than London’s Royal Courts of Justice.”

Rahul Rose, a senior researcher at Corruption Watch, said: “There are countless rulings from senior members of the judiciary highlighting the vital importance of transparency and openness for the justice system. However, for most members of the public, including experienced journalists, the courts feel Kafkaesque and opaque.

“The lack of open justice in the court system is having a worrying effect on anti-corruption enforcement with many bribery trials receiving no contemporaneous coverage, and significant hearings routinely proceeding in private.”

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