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Draft guidance published on anonymisation of children judgments

Date:19 AUG 2016
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A project funded by the Nuffield Foundation and supported by the Association of Lawyers for Children aims to develop draft guidance to assist judges in the anonymisation of children judgments in public law proceedings. It is important to be aware that that the draft guidance, although published with the support of the President of the Family Division, has not been approved by the President and is therefore not to be understood as being judicially approved.

The guidance, authored by Julia Brophy, principal researcher in family justice, builds on a stream of work regarding the privacy, welfare and safeguarding needs of subject children in the context of the ‘transparency’ agenda for family courts. It develops findings from a review of children judgments on Bailii  (2015) regarding geographical/personal identifiers and potential for jigsaw identification of children therein and concerns about explicit descriptions of the sexual abuse of children in a document placed in the public domain.

In the light of potential for jigsaw identification of children (see Appendix 1) the guidance is not confined to the issue of concealing names but extends to the avoidance of any materials liable to lead to the identification of the child.  It aims to help judges improve anonymisation practices and draft details of the sexual abuse of children, thus striking a better balance between the objective of publishing more judgments but also taking positive steps to protect the privacy and safeguarding needs of children.

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The guidance offers practical ways to support judges in securing the child’s anonymity by way of checklists. In this exercise, work has also explored available policy and practice regarding children judgments in some similar common law jurisdictions (see Appendix 4).

The guidance was informed by findings from the 2016 Review of Bailii judgments supplemented by a desk-based analysis of publically available judgments, as well as selected policy documents and judgments from some similar common law jurisdictions.  The work was guided by an advisory group made up of senior judges, lawyers, welfare and clinical experts, and NYAS.

The document aims to assist the President of the Family Division in taking forward an agenda for family justice which addresses legitimate concerns about the work of family courts while at the same time ensuring the privacy, welfare and safeguarding needs of already highly vulnerable children/young people are addressed and protected by courts. It is currently under consideration by the President with a view to deciding the form any guidance he issues should take; it is understood he will consult on his proposals before finally issuing any formal guidance.

The draft guidance and executive summary are available to download below.

Note: another research study on transparency funded by the Nuffield Foundation, being undertaken by Julie Doughty at Cardiff University, is ongoing. The Cardiff project is evaluating the responses to, and effects of, the judicial guidance on publication on Bailii that was issued by the President in January 2014.

See also Julia Brophy's news article in September Family Law, 'Draft guidance to address "new" frontiers in the anonymisation of children judgments'.

A detailed article on the guidance resulting from work funded by Nuffield will be published in October Family Law.

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