Access to information and protecting public interest journalism

Ongoing work by Dr Judith Townend, senior lecturer in media and information law, uses research to inform the development of communications and digital policy and law on freedom of expression, particularly access to information and the protection of public interest journalism. Her recent publications include ‘Executive accountability and national security’ with Lorna Woods and Lawrence McNamara (2021), ‘Positive free speech and public access to courts’ (2020) and ‘We must see them in court’ (2019). Initiatives building on this body of work include:

Open justice

  • In autumn 2021, Townend gave written and oral evidence to the House of Commons select committee on justice for a short inquiry on court reporting and open justice. The committee’s report in 2022 called for “a new approach across the court system that makes it clear that access for the media and members of the public is a fundamental element of sound justice”. The committee cited Townend and other stakeholders’ evidence on the importance of informational transparency and governance. The report recognises the status and role of the wider public, as well as that of media organisations, and adopts Townend’s recommendation to create a new court user information group, involving members from NGO, academic and legal tech backgrounds [para 132; 134].
  • A review of access to ‘justice system data’ in three countries: Australia, Canada and Ireland. Commissioned by The Legal Education Foundation, this report by Dr Judith Townend and Dr Cassandra Wiener analyses the ways in which the information generated by the process of justice is managed. It considers how data-sharing methods are perceived to relate to judicial independence, innovation, and public understanding of, and confidence in, the justice system. The report was launched with a remote event chaired by legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg QC in July 2021, and is designed to inform national level and international policymaking on open justice and access to justice system data.

Confidentiality of journalistic sources and whistleblowers

  • With external collaborators Professor Lorna Woods and Dr Lawrence McNamara, Townend met with the Law Commission of England and Wales to discuss their draft proposals for the reform of official secrets laws. Their submission of evidence was cited in the Commission’s final report in 2020, on several aspects, including the Commission’s revised position on the inclusion of a public interest defence. As part of this process, she co-authored a related research paper with Woods and McNamara published in the Modern Law Review in 2021. 

Facilitation of charitable journalism

  • As an advisor to the Public Benefit Journalism Research Centre (PBJRC), Townend’s research informed a PBJRC submission to the House of Lords communications and digital committee’s inquiry on the future of journalism, which focused on the facilitation of charitable funding of journalism. The submission was directly cited in the final report, informing the committee’s support for charitable journalism and encouragement of the Charity Commission to continue to recognise public interest journalism as a charitable purpose.