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Court of Protection prepares to open up to public and media

Transparency pilot scheme to run for at least six months

A pilot scheme has begun which will see the public and media gain access to Court of Protection hearings across England and Wales for the first time.

A new Pilot Practice Direction will apply to new proceedings issued from the 29th January. Hearings scheduled already under the old rules will not be changed but some urgent open hearings will feed through to the courts from next month.

The Practice Direction will effectively change the default position to one where hearings are held in public with reporting restrictions to protect identities. This means that when an order has been made under the pilot, both the media and the public will be able to attend, unless a further order has been made which excludes them. This will also apply to proceedings issued pre-29th January but where a further hearing becomes necessary after the start date.

Court of Protection judgments have been routinely published since 2010 and serious medical cases (such as a decision to stop life support) are held in public, with the identities of those concerned kept anonymous. Committal hearings where a custodial sentence is imposed are also held in public.

Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is also amending the way in which court lists are displayed, so that they provide a short descriptor 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. Lists will be published on a weekly basis in court buildings and online at www.courtserve.net .

Sir James Munby, President of 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 pilot is expected to run in all regions for at least six months (with the possibility of extension) to allow for the changes to be fully tested. Media organisations consulted during the pilot's development included the Society of Editors and the News Media Association.

Further information, including the Practice Direction, relating to the pilot is here.

31/1/16