So, the UK Supreme Court, having been the first Supreme Court to join Twitter, on Monday joined such heady internet sensations as “Keyboard Cat” and “Sneezing Panda” by launching its own YouTube channel. The channel will, disappointingly, not show Lord Hope biting Lord Reed’s finger, but instead short summaries of the judgments (well, what else were you expecting?). These, along with the full hearings themselves, are already broadcast live, but now anyone with an interest in a particular case can watch the summaries at their leisure rather than risking the wrath of their bosses by surreptitiously attempting to watch the live broadcast during working hours (or maybe that’s just me…).
The summaries, written by the Justices themselves, have been delivered in court since the Supreme Court opened in 2009, replacing the previous practice where the judges delivered their decisions as speeches in special sittings of the House of Lords.
The summaries aim to explain briefly the background to the appeal in hand, the decision the court has reached, and the reasons for that decision. The Supreme Court already publishes extremely helpful press summaries which are invaluable in providing journalists with a concise, accurate synopsis of the facts and the reasons for the judgment. The online judgment summaries go one step further in providing a little more detail in an easily accessible format. The Supreme Court has led the way in making what it does as understandable and accessible as possible to the general public. What, however, of the Scottish Courts?
Scotland’s highest civil and criminal courts, the Court of Session and High Court respectively, offer only a search engine of case judgments. Whilst the list of judgments is useful for lawyers and law students, to anyone without a legal training, wading through the detailed procedural history of a case only to come to an incomprehensible conclusion about declarators can hardly be said to constitute access to justice. Whilst it’s unlikely that we’ll see the Lord President joining the cavernous annals of YouTube stardom anytime soon, press summaries of the judgments would go a long way towards unravelling the often lengthy and, to non-lawyers, impenetrable judgments of our courts. Access to justice should be for everyone, not just for solicitors and advocates.