The President of
the Family Division Sir James Munby has released a Consultation Paper regarding
‘Transparency – The Next Steps’. We have seen, over the process of reform this
year, the President’s continued wish to demystify the Family Court and this
paper outlines the intended ways of achieving that goal.
In a nutshell:
The public needs to
understand the Family Court and what it does, without compromising
confidentiality or the private and family lives of those involved in the court
Practice Guidance: Transparency in the Family Courts – Publication of Judgments  1 FLR 733
– was issued on 16 January 2014 and took
effect from 3 February 2014.
The Consultation Paper:
Transparency – The Next Steps: A Consultation Paper
was issued on 15
Summary of the Paper:
The need for
greater transparency is to increase public understanding and confidence in the
court system and allow everyone to see what is being done by the judges.
has been significant in increasing the number of judgments in
family cases being published on BAILII. This increase in reporting will have
consequences, and the President particularly wants to hear any views regarding:
impact on children and families, both immediate, short term and long term;
impact on local authorities and other professionals;
change in the level and quality of news and reporting about the family justice
Further sought are any
views and suggestions as to the way cases are listed in the Family Division and
the Family Court, so that court lists are more informative as to the subject
matter of the cases (without naming the parties). The current case number
procedure (which uses the identifying code of the court, the year of issue, a
letter to identify the type of case and a sequential 5 digit number) is
understood by practitioners although not, it is thought, by others. One
suggestion for making the listing clearer is that a catch-phrase or some
catch-words might be added after each case number to indicate in slightly more
detail what the case is about.
A pilot project to deal
with the issue of disclosure of certain categories of document to the media is
a possible next step. Likely to be confined to High Court judges sitting in London (and possibly a
limited number of DFJs elsewhere), the disclosable documents would fall into
prepared by the advocates, including case summaries, position statements,
skeleton arguments, threshold and fact-finding documents;
experts’ reports, or extracts of such reports.
Category (1) is
considered the logical next step with advocates preparing documents in a form
that could be released to members of the accredited media. The purpose of which
is to facilitate the media understanding the case and deciding whether it is
one they would wish to attend.