Group issues guidance over family court judgments

A debate about just how much detail from family court cases should be placed in the public domain refuses to die down.

This week, the Transparency Project, a campaign group which was set up to improve public understanding of the process, warned that there was perhaps a tendency to be too cautious when taking decisions about what should be published.

The majority of family court cases are heard in private, and although bona fide journalists are entitled to attend most hearings there are often restrictions on the details they can report.

Three years ago, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, issued guidance to Judges, encouraging them to publish more judgments, amid concerns that public understanding of the system remained rather limited.

The group notes that while the number of published judgments had increased following the intervention of Sir James, the level has since declined.

There are also concerns that some cases have so much information redacted that it is almost impossible to glean anything of substance from the judgment which is eventually made available.

The trend has prompted the Transparency Project to issue guidance on the decisions about what details should be released.

Lucy Reed, who chairs the group, said: “We produced this guide because we realised that there were no materials for families involved in family court cases to help them understand when, why and how judgments in their case might be published, and we wanted to fill that gap.

“It isn’t practical or appropriate for every judgment in every family court case to be published, but we hope that it will both help make sure judgments are reliably anonymised before publication.”

Peter Martin, OGR Stock Denton’s head of Family Law, said: “There is a fine line to walk. Information as to the processes and principles in family cases is essential.  Details of individual cases much less so and simply feeds demand from pressure groups who want to be able to attack the ‘fairness’ of Family Law Judges and from tabloid journalism for some scandal.

“Every case is different and the Judges have got the balance about right at the moment, providing sufficient information to understand how principle has been applied and keeping enough out so that the parties and children cannot be identified.

“Lawyers study for years to be specialist family lawyers.  Whilst the public may want everything simplified for them, and the Government seem to believe that individuals should deal with family breakdown themselves, the simple fact is that divorce and family breakdown is complex and objective unemotional advice is what is really needed by those going through it.”

For further information about this update please contact Peter Martin, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.

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