An open court is a court which is open to members of the public. Anyone may attend court, as long as he or she does so without causing a disruption. In some nations, open courts are the norm and members of the public freely attend trials they are interested in. In other regions of the world, courts are more commonly closed, with access being limited to the parties involved and their witnesses.
The proceedings in an open court are documented to create a court record and this record can also later be reviewed by members of the public. If the court needs to hear sensitive information, the court may be temporarily cleared. This may also be the case if there are concerns about witness intimidation or if a witness may be subjected to undue stress by having to testify in front of a crowd. For example, in a case concerning child abuse, the court might be cleared when the child testifies to make the child feel more comfortable.
When material which may be prejudicial in nature needs to be discussed, the court will also be cleared, or the material will be discussed in judge's chambers. This holds true for things like motions and disputes over evidence. In all other cases, however, members of the public will be allowed to remain seated in an open court unless there is a compelling reason to remove them.
While members of the public have a right to attend open court, they cannot disrupt or interfere with the trial. A judge can order audience members removed if they become distracting and people can also be charged with contempt of court for failing to behave respectfully or resisting orders to leave the court. The bailiff is in charge of enforcing the judge's orders and escorting people out of court if they disrupt the proceedings.
The idea behind holding trials in public is that they will be more fair when members of the public can observe. It is also harder to make deals, offer bribes, and otherwise manipulate the judicial system when trials occur in plain sight in an open court. Courts are also kept open as a matter of public interest; members of a community may want to be able to file a trial as it unfolds, especially if the trial pertains to a controversial or high profile issue. When judges or lawyers believe that court should be closed, they must provide justification for doing so.