A recent law graduate hopes a new pilot programme launched by the highest court in New Zealand could change the sector for good.
The Supreme Court of New Zealand is pulling back the veil and making lawyers' written arguments, or submissions, accessible online from today.
Court submissions are pieces of information that help support a lawyer's case prior to a hearing and access to this could change the way professionals, students and the public understand the process.
Victoria University graduate Feroze Brailsford sees the initiative as a good thing for students across the country.
"I think it's really good and is seen as a success so it can be rolled out for other courts as well."
Brailsford says accessibility had been difficult in the past and empathised with students who weren't able to attend the courts in person.
"I think that could be a really valuable thing not only for law students but law students who aren't in Wellington, that don't have the opportunity to pop down and hear those oral arguments."
It's an opportunity to give a greater level of accessibility to the public, says Brailsford.
This new function could be a key player in championing transparency at the highest level and is already in effect overseas.
Submissions will be published to the Courts of New Zealand website and exclude hearings before the court up until the beginning of April.
Victoria University Law Professor Catherine Iorns said she considered it a good move for education particularly because it enables lawyers and students to read all arguments put to the court before it had come to a decision.
Knowing what is being argued can be helpful in understanding a decision more fully, Iorns said, and accessing this information could help probe the limits of court rulings for any potential future impacts to law.
Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann canvassed interested parties in March 2021 with an overwhelmingly positive response from members of the profession and law schools.
"Many expressed strong support for the proposal to make written submissions publicly available on the basis that it supports understanding of what is in issue in the proceeding, and through that improves transparency and helps maintain confidence in the administration of justice," Winkelmann said.
Once delivered in open court, a lawyers' submissions are already treated as public, but Iorns says accessing these can be difficult when you don't know how.
"This move by the Supreme Court will make them easily accessible, and thus increase access to information about the law which is better for open justice more generally, and especially for education."
Following last years' canvassing, interested parties voiced a need for necessary safeguards to be in place for sensitive material, including name suppression, which the Court was also very mindful of, the Chief Justice said.
"Efforts to further strengthen open justice must be consistent with the need to protect suppressed, confidential or sensitive information. We must balance the need for transparency with the interests of parties – including victims and their whānau – and other countervailing interests," Winkelmann said.
Coming into effect today, submissions prior to the commencement date of February 1 will not be included.
A review of the initiative will be held later this year.