The President of the Family Division has published a new consultation paper on transparency in the family courts.
In the paper, entitled Transparency – The Next Steps, Sir James Munby describes the issue as a “key element” in recent reforms to family law. It involves:
“…finding ways of opening up the workings of the Family Court to public scrutiny so as to increase understanding of what we do and how we do it, whilst at the same time preserving confidentiality and respecting the private and family lives of those whom the system serves.”
Greater transparency in the family courts helps increase public understanding and confidence, the President notes. In addition, “the public has a legitimate interest in being able to read what is being done by the judges in its name.”
Sir James has regularly pushed the issue of transparency in the family courts since becoming President of the Family Division. Practice guidance on the publication of judgements came into effect in February of this year.
The new consultation paper seeks feedback and comments on how the earlier guidance has worked out in practice. Sir James highlights a “very significant” increase in the number family court judgements published on legal website Bailii. In just one year, the number of judgements published featuring senior judges has increased from 109 to 146, he reports, while the number featuring circuit judges has jumped sharply, from just six to 109.
Such a change would have consequences, Sir James notes, only some of which would be foreseeable.
“I am keen to have as wide a debate as possible about the impact of these changes, and accordingly I invite views on any aspect of this change.”
Read the full consultation paper here.