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Private trials must be last option, says Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger

Courts should sit in private only when there is no alternative, the President of the Supreme Court said today.

Judges should also apply a similar no-option test when making orders preventing litigants being identified, and documents relied on in court hearings should be made available to journalists covering cases, Lord Neuberger said in an interview with Press Association journalist Brian Farmer.

"You should not be making any privacy or confidentiality orders unless you as the judge are satisfied that there is no alternative, that justice could not be done without confidentiality or privacy orders," Lord Neuberger said.

Judge should also do everything possible to "minimise" the effects of such orders and try to limit the amount of a time a court had to sit in private.

Lord Neuberger also said journalists covering cases could not always get the full picture without access to documents - such as skeleton arguments, in which barristers outline the details of their clients' claims.

If courts were sitting in public then journalists should have access to documents before the court.

"If proceedings are in public then ... there should be made available all the documents which are in court - (journalists) should have them," he said.

"If we believe in open justice then we should be doing something to ensure that, within reason, copies of documents, such as skeletons, are available."

He said there might be questions relating who paid for copies of documents - a court might make copies or lawyers might be asked produce extra copies for journalists.

Lord Neuberger, who was speaking during a series of interviews with journalists, answered questions on a range of topics, including legal aid cuts and politicians' criticisms of judges, and gave his thoughts on how to increase the number of women and ethnic minority judges.

Asked about the Government's Justice and Security Bill and proposals for the extension of the use of secret courts for cases involving national security issues, Lord Neuberger said he could see both sides of the argument.

He told the BBC that "anyone interested in democracy" would be concerned about the public being denied access to hearings.

But he said he could also see that the Government needed to be able to defend itself against claims - particularly "baseless claims".

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