Some common sense about transparency

Family Law|September 30th 2014

As I said here in this post, ‘transparency’ is one of the buzzwords of the moment. The rationale behind the current ‘transparency drive’ is to counter the allegation that the family courts operate “a system of secret and unaccountable justice”, and the primary area of concern over secrecy is, of course, proceedings relating to children.

With this in mind, I have been taking a look at the report Safeguarding, Privacy and Respect for Children and Young People & The Next Steps in Media Access to Family Courts. This was prepared by Dr Julia Brophy, principal researcher in family justice at the University of Oxford, for the National Youth Advocacy Service and the Association of Lawyers for Children. And what interesting reading it has been.

The report details the results of a study into the views of a sample group of children and young people regarding the issue of transparency and media access to the family courts. Almost all of the group had had direct experience of family court proceedings. The report is quite lengthy and covers a lot of ground, but here are some of its main findings and recommendations:

  • Young people do not trust the media – in all its forms. They see it as a highly competitive, commercially driven industry motivated by the need to increase sales figures through populist readership. This results in an industry – whether newsprint, TV, radio or other social media – which does not prioritise the truth.
  • The group was unanimous in opposition to media attendance at hearings. They said that the family court is not a public arena and a recent move to permit the media to attend hearings represents a failure of Parliament to consider and take seriously the views, needs and long term welfare of the children concerned.
  • They argued that increased, meaningful public knowledge about the work of family courts could not be achieved via the media. They did not ‘buy’ the argument of policy makers that permitting the press to report detailed information from live cases will reduce criticisms of family courts.
  • On the other hand, they understood that published judgments provide accurate information of events and the reasons for a court decision, but were concerned about ‘jigsaw identification’ – i.e. that the identity of the children concerned could be pieced together from information in the judgments.

Then, most interestingly of all:

  • Young people said accusations that family courts are ‘secret courts’ are disingenuous: they are private, and for good reason – such accusations were simply a justification for press access to information it would otherwise not achieve.

Furthermore:

  • They said judges are there to protect children: the terms of their work and training provide public assurance there is nothing ‘secret’ going on and that the process is fair.

As to the future:

  • They said the President of the Family Division should stop trying to please the media, not least because it will not fulfil his agenda. He should explore other mechanisms for monitoring and, if necessary, improving services and information about services.

I have to say that I don’t recall previously reading so much common sense about the issue of transparency in one place. That it should emanate from the mouths of the children involved in family proceedings, rather than from lawyers or other ‘experts’ is particularly poignant. Certainly, I hope that the Government and those tasked with considering reform in this area pay close attention to what they have to say.

Photo by kamera kızı via Flickr

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(3)

  1. Carol Bird says:

    In this discussion about transparency, no mention of the fact, children of unmarried parents are treat differently within these Family proceedings, Whereby the childs birth certified surname, is changed by using the fathers surname, followed by the mothers surname, on all court orders thus making the orders (to be honest not worth the paper they are written on) legally invalid, and an unscrupulous way to allow agencies reason not to act as instructed

  2. Nordic says:

    If one actually reads this report, it transpires that the sample of young persons interviewed is 11 (yes that’s right – ELEVEN). Interviewing this mighty sample of young people, most of which came from the NYAS community, provided enough material to an 80 page report, which I find impressive.
    .
    If one further reads the survey”methodology” and the list of interview questions, the strong support for privat (secret) family courts and curtailment of transparency expressed by the 11 is hardly surprising. It includes such gems as “would you be happy to have your case exposed in the press?”. They would not (nor would I). Or how about: “do you think current reporting restrictions are adequate?” One wonders on what basis these 11 was able to judge the adaquacy of current restrictions, unless if course they had personal experiences of violations – but if so they didn’t say. After similar “unbiased” questions, our sample is then told that the media accuses the courts of being secret in part because they are restricted in what they can report – “what do you think of this accusation and what would you advise the president of the family courts in addressing it?”. Not surprising, having been led to the water, they drink and tell the president that he should stop pandering to the nasty press.
    .
    It is a pity that the 11 young persons was not given some real life examples of parents being incorrectly accused of harming their children by unaccountable experts and prevented from defending themselves because of the privacy of the courts. I wonder whether this might have caused them to think some thoughts of their own.
    .
    This report is pursuing an agenda under the pretence of being a serious piece of research. It is not. It is about as credible as if one interviewed 11 kids of F4J activists on the benefits of shared parenting. How on earth an Oxford Dr would put her name to this is beyond me.

    • jamesp says:

      Indeed, we need to know more about the survey, how it was compiled etc.
      From the last comment John it appears to be another attempt at just covering up truth and manipulating kids.
      Please post survey details and we can see openly the questions asked to these young people.

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