Transparency is about understanding not information. Quality not quantity. Substance not form.
So more judgments ≠ more transparency.
And more open courts ≠ more transparency.
And more and more and more and more and more information on a single website ≠ more transparency.
Nor, in point of fact is it = to more access to justice or = to a lawyer.
You may be wondering what I am on about?
I am thinking of the ongoing drive by the civil servants / government for a single website the behemoth that is the .gov.uk website. Justice.gov.uk ain’t exactly skinny but every day a chunk more of its data is hoovered up by .gov.uk, relocated to some impossible to find location.
Between these two websites and wikipedia it is quite possible that the sum of all human knowledge is stored. But transparency?
In the same way that disclosure of 400 boxes of documents an hour before a hearing is not meaningful disclosure, the .gov.uk beast is not transparent. This is not just a function of its vastness, it is in very large part a result of its organic assembly and gradual acquisition and absorption of data which makes for a messy information architecture – but it is mainly because of the utterly hopeless search function.
Whether it is searching for documentation on legal aid, or seeking more than the most superficial information about how to apply for a benefit the .gov.uk website is utterly frustrating and unnavigable, sending the user in ever decreasing navigation circles.
This is important because this is the place to which litigants in person and litigants generally are expected to go to find out about courts, about legal aid, about mediation, separation and all sorts of things to do with the Family Justice System. And the recently published report on Litigants in Person (published by the MoJ – I’m not linking to it, I challenge you to find it by using their search function) recommends the creation of a single authoritative “official” website containing all the information a LiP needs in one place. In itself a sensible recommendation – but it will result I suspect in the placing of yet more information on .gov.uk – never to be seen again.
I worry that the more information we are given the less transparent it becomes. The problem for litigants in person is not the absence of information it is the accessibility of it. Litigants in person need a mechanism to search, and to filter. They need curation of information. I fear that a single website may become more of an excuse than a solution.