Transparency. These days a word that you can’t escape. The word of the moment, the fad that everyone is talking about, from the President of the Family Division downwards. Encouraged by his lead, many judges, family lawyers and others are working feverishly to improve transparency. It is the universal panacea that will solve the image problem of the family justice system.
Or is it?
There are some, whether as a result of bad personal experiences, or whether following a particular agenda, who accuse the family courts of operating a system of secret unaccountable justice. They should loud, from rooftops (literally) and via whatever means they have available, not least social media. They use whatever tactic they can to attract attention, including the hackneyed one of outrageous exaggeration, saying such things as that the ‘corrupt family courts steal our children’.
Like any message that is shouted loudly enough, it is picked up by the popular media. Seeing a good story and never letting the truth get in its way, they run with it, ratcheting up the clamour for the system to be opened up and exposed for the corrupt edifice that it is.
Rather than staying aloof from such nonsense, those at the top of the family justice system and many within it start running scared. Something must be done to counter these false allegations, or there will be dire consequences.
Those who give in to the loud feverish voices are like politicians responding to the popular media; pandering to the masses, for fear of losing votes. Instead of standing up for what is right, for example that there is actually not a problem with human rights or ‘interfering European Courts’, they give in to the clamour and promise to ‘do something about it’. The family justice system apologists are just the same. Instead of ignoring those voices they insist that action must be taken to defend the system.
Their response is summed up in one word: ‘transparency’. If we are transparent in everything we do, all of those who criticise the system will see that they were wrong: the system is not secretive, and it operates in the best interests of families and, in particular, of children.
Well, there is one fundamental flaw in that argument: it presupposes that the critics are all reasonable people, who will understand why the family courts do what they do, and accept that they were wrong. Unfortunately, many of the critics are not reasonable, and will not listen to reason. In fact, no matter what you say to them, they will still be convinced they are right.
So instead of rising to the bait, all that needs to be done is to ask a simple question.
The simple question is this: Is there a good reason why some family cases are dealt with privately, and some details of cases withheld? If the answer is ‘yes’, then that is the end of the matter.
The answer is ‘yes’.
Now, I’m sure that many will find this to be appallingly complacent. However, I am not for one moment saying that the system never gets things wrong. Like any system, it does get things wrong sometimes. I am also not saying that we should not look for ways of improving the system. On the contrary, we should be constantly aware of the possibility of improvement. However, the driving force for change should never be the volume of the calls for change, but rather the rightness of those calls.
As I’ve said above and before, this is an argument that the family justice system simply cannot win, and it shouldn’t expend precious scant resources trying to. Let us therefore forget transparency and get on with the job in hand.