Romana Canneti: Right to freedom of expression was a cause worth fighting for

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The Independent Online

"It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance, that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done."

This principle, which was famously reasserted by Lloyd George's Lord Chief Justice (Lord Hewart) in 1924 has led to the almost universal opening of the British court system to the press, if not to the public.

Last year even the family courts, whose hearings have always been behind closed doors, granted access to accredited press representatives. As the eyes and ears of the public, the press plays the role of public watchdog – although the judges still retain, and use, their powers to dictate what can actually be published.

Until yesterday however, the media had never been allowed access to a court of protection hearing. These courts govern the affairs of people who "lack mental capacity" – whether they are born with conditions such as severe autism, suffer brain damage as fully functioning adults after a stroke or accident, or develop Alzheimer's in old age.

In a group endeavour led by The Independent, several national newspaper groups decided to fight for the open justice principle to extend to the court of protection.

In a landmark ruling in March, Lord Judge sitting with the Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and the President of the Court of Protection Sir Mark Potter, changed all that.

Much of the reasoning behind that decision hinged on an emphasis on the importance of the open justice principle. The other significant legal development in their decision is that in reaching it, for the first time, the judges explicitly recognised that the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights includes the freedom to receive – not only to impart – information and ideas.

This could mean that in future, rather than than the media having to argue why they should be allowed into tribunal hearings or other hearings (such as certain meetings of public authorities), the authorities will have to justify the media's exclusion.

Romana Canneti is a media lawyer for The Independent