A legal academic has published new guidelines for dealing with anonymisation in family law judgments involving children.
Judges should take very careful steps to make sure that the children in their judgments cannot be identified, the guide insists. Any information, including “the distinctive but also the mundane”, should be carefully considered before it is included in the write-up of a case.
The guide includes a checklist for judges to use when they anonymise their cases. These include a recommendation that they avoid using pseudonyms and instead use initials. However, these initials must not have any relevance to the child’s actual name. Letters like Z or Q should be avoided because they “may indicate an ethnic/religious group”.
In order to better protect the children, other people involved in these cases should be anonymous too, according to the guide. These include social workers, doctors and expert witnesses. As these professionals often work in a limited geographical area, the identification of children in these cases would be made easier if they were named.
Another point made was that ethnic or religious backgrounds should be replaced by broader terms unless they are essential to the case. For example, instead of saying a family came from Bangladesh the guidelines recommend the judge say they were from South Asia.
The guide was funded by education charity the Nuffield Foundation. The Association of Lawyers for Children also lent their support. Lead author Dr Julia Brophy is a principal investigator in family justice at the University of Oxford.
The guide also includes advice on how to discuss any abuse that children may have suffered. Previous judgments which dealt with this kind of subject matter often included “difficult, deeply embarrassing, shaming and damaging details” of the abuse. The fact that this level of detail was publically available was “deeply distressing” Dr Brophy wrote.
Although the document was published with the support of the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby has not officially approved it. So while some judges may take what it says into consideration, it has not changed the rules.
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.