Transparency Drive in Family Court Proceedings

In his continuing drive to open up family proceedings to scrutiny by the press and the public, the nation’s most senior family judge has emphasised the overriding need for transparency and ruled that the ‘starting point’ should be that judgments of the family courts and Court of Protection should be published.

In giving fresh guidance to the judiciary which is bound to bring a sea change to the way in which family justice operates, the President of the Family Division said, “In both courts there is a need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system.

“At present, too few judgments are made available to the public, which has a legitimate interest in being able to read what is being done by judges in its name. The guidance will have the effect of increasing the number of judgments available for publication, even if they will often need to be published in appropriately anonymised form.”

Sir James emphasised that the starting point should be that permission should be given for judgments to be published. He added, “Permission to publish a judgment should always be given whenever the judge concludes that publication would be in the public interest and whether or not a request has been made by a party or the media.”

Anonymisation of judgments would remain appropriate in most cases involving children or vulnerable adults. However, Sir James said that waiver of anonymity would sometimes be appropriate and in the public interest, particularly where parents had been exonerated in care proceedings and wished to publicly discuss their experiences in the context of a judgment.