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Can The Public Attend Court Hearings NSW?

court room

The judicial system is a fundamental pillar of any democratic society, and transparency within it is crucial for maintaining public trust and confidence. One way to ensure transparency is by allowing members of the public to attend court hearings. The public can attend court hearings in NSW.

 

The Principle of Open Justice

 

Open justice is a fundamental principle that underpins the legal system in NSW. It ensures that court proceedings are conducted openly and transparently, allowing the public to observe and scrutinise the administration of justice. This principle is essential for safeguarding the integrity of the legal process and ensuring accountability.

Access to Court Hearings in NSW

 

In NSW, the default position is that court hearings are open to the public. This means that anyone, including members of the general public, can attend most court proceedings. However, there are exceptions and limitations to this general rule.

 

Closed Court Proceedings

 

Certain types of cases or specific parts of a trial may be closed to the public. This usually happens in cases involving sensitive or confidential information, such as cases involving children, sexual assault victims, or national security matters. The court may also close proceedings if it is in the interest of justice to do so.

 

On occasion, the judge or magistrate might decide to have a closed court session.

 

  • During a closed court session, only specific individuals are permitted to enter the courtroom to observe or participate in a legal case. Additionally, there may be limitations on the information the prosecutor can disclose regarding the proceedings of that day.
  • One instance where a court may be closed by the magistrate or judge is when they are delivering the verdict on a defendant who has testified against others during a trial.

Suppression Orders

 

In some cases, a court may issue a suppression order, which restricts the publication or disclosure of certain information related to a case. This can include the names of parties involved, evidence, or other sensitive details. These orders are typically made to protect the identity or safety of individuals involved in a case.

 

The authority of a court to issue closed court, suppression, and non-publication orders is mainly outlined in the Court Suppression and Non-publication Orders Act 2010, also known as the Suppression Act, which came into effect on 1st July 2011. Similar provisions applicable to criminal cases can also be found in the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 and the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987.

 

When possible, the consideration of whether such orders should be implemented under any of the relevant legal provisions should be addressed at the beginning of the legal proceedings.

 

Media Access

 

While the public is generally allowed to attend court hearings, the media may be subject to additional rules and guidelines. Journalists and reporters must follow specific protocols to ensure fair and accurate reporting without compromising the rights of the parties involved.

 

Remote Access to Court Proceedings

 

In recent years, technology has played a significant role in enhancing access to court proceedings. Many courts in NSW now offer remote access to hearings through audio or video links. This allows members of the public to observe proceedings without physically attending the courthouse.

 

COVID-19 Restrictions

 

During times of public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, special measures may be put in place to limit physical attendance in courtrooms. In such cases, courts may rely more heavily on remote access solutions to ensure continued transparency and accessibility.

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Benefits of Allowing Public Access

  • Promotes Transparency and Accountability: Allowing the public to attend court hearings fosters transparency, which is essential for maintaining public trust in the judicial system.
  • Educational Value: Observing court proceedings can be an educational experience for students, legal professionals, and the general public. It provides insight into how the legal process works.
  • Deters Misconduct: The knowledge that court proceedings are open to the public acts as a deterrent against unethical behaviour, as individuals are less likely to engage in misconduct when they know they are being observed.
  • Ensures Fairness: Public scrutiny of court proceedings helps ensure that trials are conducted fairly and that judges, lawyers, and other participants adhere to the rules of the legal system.

In New South Wales, the principle of open justice is a cornerstone of the legal system. While there are exceptions and limitations to public access, the default position is that court hearings are open to the public. This transparency is vital for maintaining public trust in the judicial process. As technology continues to advance, remote access solutions further enhance accessibility to court proceedings. By allowing the public to attend court hearings, NSW ensures that justice is administered in an open and accountable manner.

 

If you are required to attend court for a traffic offence in NSW and require legal advice, contact our traffic lawyers in Sydney today. We will provide you with free legal advice for up to 15 minutes in relation to any criminal case you are facing.

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