Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


Patti Goldman


Throughout Anglo-American history those in government have sought to silence opposition. Public discussion and dissent, however, are essential during national crises, such as military engagements or attempted expansions of governmental powers. Ironically, when public scrutiny is most needed, governments restrict the public access to information and the right to criticize governmental activities. This Article analyzes the English and United States governments' attempts to limit public access to information. Both systems recognize legitimate limitations on the right of access only when necessary to protect sensitive governmental functions. In England, however, the restriction is broader. Public access can be limited to protect the operation of the judicial process. Restrictions on public access lessen the effectiveness of public participation. This is destructive to democratic self-government. An uninformed public cannot challenge the government to consider alternatives or account for its decisions and actions.