The public and media will gain greater access to Court of Protection hearings after a pilot scheme starts next year.
The specialist court makes decisions about the personal welfare (eg medical treatment) and the property and affairs of persons who lack capacity to make such decisions themselves, applying a best interests test.
With rare exceptions, such as serious medical cases, hearings have usually been in private with only those directly involved in the case attending.
The pilot scheme will reverse this approach, and the court will nominally direct that its hearings will be in public and make an anonymity order to protect the people involved.
The scheme will provide evidence to assess whether the court should in future hold its hearings in private or in public, and whether access should be given to the media but not the public.
Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) will also amend the way in which court lists are displayed, so that they provide a short description of what the case is about - allowing the media and members of the public to make an informed decision on whether to attend the hearing.
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division and the Court of Protection, said:
'For the last six years accredited media have been able to attend Family Court cases and have been better informed about the work of the Family Court as a result. It is logical to look at extending this greater transparency to the Court of Protection, provided the right balance can be struck to safeguard the privacy of people who lack capacity to make their own decisions.'
The Vice President of the Court of Protection, Mr Justice Charles, said:
'I support a move towards more public hearings to promote a wider understanding of the work and approach of the Court of Protection, and the improvement of the performance of the Court and those who appear in it. I am aware that others hold different views on whether hearings should generally be in public, and hope that the pilot will provide useful evidence to weigh the rival arguments.'
Justice Minister Caroline Dinenage said:
'I'm pleased that we are piloting a new, more open. more transparent Court of Protection. It's right the public and the media should be able to see justice being done in this important court, while protecting the privacy of the people involved.'
The Court of Protection's main base is in London, but it also sits throughout England and Wales. The pilot scheme is expected to run in all regions from January 2016 for at least 6 months (with the possibility of extension) to allow for the changes to be fully tested.
For more information on the pilot scheme, the Court of Protection transparency pilot background note
, the Court of Protection transparency pilot Practice Direction
and the Court of Protection transparency draft order
are available to view and download.