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Transparency consultation paper issued by President of the Family Division

Views sought as to working and extension of existing transparency guidance

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has issued a consultation paper as to whether and, if so, how transparency in the family courts can be extended.

He says that the underlying principles are:

Within this consultation the President seeks views on the following:

The impact and the working to date of the Practice Guidance: Transparency in the Family Courts – Publication of Judgments
The President notes that since of his guidance on transparency there has been a very significant increase in the number of judgments in family cases being published. He says that, 'like all reforms, this one will take time to settle down.'

In that respect he seeks views as to:

  1. The impact on children and families, both immediate, short term and long term, for example, the risk of a child in later life coming across an anonymised judgment about his background and learning details of it for the first time. 
  2. The impact on local authorities and other professionals. 
  3. Any change in the level and quality of news and reporting about the family justice system. 

Enhancement of the listing of cases in the Family Division and the Family Court so that court lists can, as the media have suggested, be made somewhat more informative than at present as to the subject matter of the cases (but not by naming the parties)
Sir James says that considerations of costs and practicable feasibility suggest that there is probably only limited scope for expanding the amount of information that appears in court lists. One suggestion is that a catch-phrase or a few catch-words might be added after each case number to indicate in slightly more detail what the case is about. 

The disclosure to the media of certain categories of document, subject to appropriate restrictions and safeguards
After discussion with a number of judges, the President's current thinking is that the next step might be a pilot project, confined to cases heard by High Court judges sitting in London (and possibly a limited number of DFJs elsewhere), under which the disclosable documents would fall into two categories: 

  1. Documents prepared by the advocates, including case summaries, position statements, skeleton arguments, threshold and fact-finding documents. 
  2. Some experts' reports, or extracts of such reports.

The possible hearing in public of certain types of family case
The President's purpose at this stage is to canvass preliminary views in order the better to be in a position to decide whether and if so how it might be appropriate to proceed. He seeks in particular views on three questions: 

  1. What types of family case might initially be appropriate for hearing in public? 
  2. What restrictions and safeguards would be appropriate? 
  3. What form might a pilot take?

Comments and suggestions should be sent by email to Andrew Shaw at Andrew.shaw@judiciary.gsi.gov.uk .

The consultation document is here.