If you want to know what really happened, read the report

Family Law|August 23rd 2017

Hardly a week goes by without the media putting out a story about a current or recent family law-related case that is riddled with errors and falsehoods. Sometimes the errors are genuine. Sometimes, sadly, they are driven by an agenda – usually with the aim of showing the family justice system in a bad light.

A classic example of this was the recent tragic case of Charlie Gard. There were an awful lot of stories circulating in the media suggesting that poor Charlie was the victim of some sort of conspiracy by an uncaring system. However, if you read the judgments of the courts involved in the case, particularly those of Mr Justice Francis, you’ll find that nothing could be further from the truth.

The moral is clear: don’t rely on mainstream media reports of cases. If you want to know what really happened in a case including, in particular, why the court made the decision it did, then the only sure way to find out is to read the full law report, containing the judgment of the court.

These days the judgments in most important cases are made freely available online, often published on the same day that they are handed down by the court. So where do you find them?

Well, there are several sites that publish family law reports, but the main one is the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, better known by its acronym, ‘Bailii’. Bailii publishes the reports of most important cases, and has a huge database, containing nearly 300,000 searchable documents. The most important decisions are also published on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website, and all Supreme Court decisions are published on the Supreme Court website.

Finding the law report on one of those sites may not be easy, particularly if you do not know the name of the case (many family law reports are anonymised, so you will not know the parties’ names, which would otherwise usually be included in the name of the case). If you are lucky, the online version of the mainstream media report of the case might link to the full law report (pleasingly this is being done with increasing frequency by the more reputable media). But how do you find the report if it is not?

If you want to look for a report on Bailii then there are several ways to go about it. If the case is recent you can look through the recent decisions/additions lists. If you have the case details you can just search the Bailii website, although if you do not have the case name this can be difficult.

A simple technique that can work for other sites is just searching on Google. This can be surprisingly effective, especially if the report was published on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website.(*Editor’s note: Bailii is not indexed by Google so cannot be searched on that site)

Another option, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, is a site of my own where I publish links to family law cases, here. The site sorts cases by subject matter, which can be useful if you don’t know the case name.

Last but not least, links to the full reports of many cases are of course included in many of the posts on this blog.

Once you have found the law report there just remains the small matter of reading and understanding it. Now I realise for non-lawyers reading a law report can be quite daunting (some reports can be daunting for lawyers to read as well), but generally they are much easier to read than they used to be, and many judges these days go out of their way to make reports clear and understandable, as in this case earlier this year.

Reading and understanding a law report may be a grind for a non-lawyer, but it can certainly be worthwhile. Not only will you gain a better understanding of what the case was about and why exactly the court came to the decision it did, but you will also most likely learn a lot about the law along the way.

Obviously this post is primarily intended to be for the benefit of lay people without a lawyer, whether they are involved in a family case of their own, or just have an interest in the subject of family law.  If you are involved in a case and have a lawyer then they will obviously know the correct points to take from cases relevant to your matter, but unfortunately a growing number of litigants are having to manage without one of those, researching the relevant law on their own. Following the advice in this post could help a few find the correct answers to their problems.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Dr manhattan says:

    Bubble world springs to mind here.
    We must not forget that just because a Judge happens to make a final decision in a court, that this means the rest of the world have to agree with it. They Don’t.

  2. Paul says:

    You always presume people have no understanding of the facts. This is rediculous. People have more access to more information than ever before. We have one of the best education systems in the developed world. Why would you assume everyone is thick ?
    I think you have trouble accepting that people don’t reach the same moral stance as the legal professionals.
    Its like Brexit. Stop dismissing people as idiots. People have looked at the facts of this case and have clearly come to a differnt view than the court. They clearly have a differnt moral and ethical grounding.
    There are not enough damning reports in the media about the family courts. Long may these negative reviews continue until this whole dark chapter is behing us.
    How many more damning stories would there be if fathers were not effectively ‘gagged’ by the courts ?
    Stopping fathers from speaking about their case protects the court. NOT the children involved.

    • John Bolch says:

      Oh dear. I really don’t know why some commenters cannot just accept a bit of genuine advice for what it is.
      Once again the point is totally missed. This post is nothing whatsoever to do with whether you agree with the law. Let me put it this way: the next time you’re in court, try telling the judge that they shouldn’t follow the law, but rather what you think the law should be. It won’t go well.
      Oh, and where did I suggest that anyone was thick? The law can be difficult, even for lawyers.

    • Dr manhattan says:

      i wouldnt bother reacting to this mans follow up comments as he is probably getting a kick out of trying to ridicule or rubbish the comments of anyone who challenges his defence of the Family courts. he would probably rather die than admit the Family courts are the worst form of justice in the UK. and thats because its where he has made a very comfortable living for many years.
      its that old line. “you dont bite the hand that feeds you”.

      • Cameron Paterson says:

        Admit it: neither you nor Paul have actually read John’s post have you?

        • Dr manhattan says:

          We dont need to,
          we are going from his past remarks that leave a lot to be desired.

          • Dr manhattan says:

            this is the bit i read and that was enough for me.
            “Hardly a week goes by without the media putting out a story about a current or recent family law-related case that is riddled with errors and falsehoods. Sometimes the errors are genuine. Sometimes, sadly, they are driven by an agenda – usually with the aim of showing the family justice system in a bad light.”

          • Dr manhattan says:

            as for this bit,
            “usually with the aim of showing the family justice system in a bad light.”
            thats because it IS Bad.
            good on the Press for getting it out to the public. Far too many families have been destroyed in total secrecy and now the truth is coming out. Justice Pauffly is only one of many examples over the years.even Sir James Munby has hit out at whats been going on. it cant be covered up any longer
            the truth must prevail for the good of the people.

          • John Bolch says:

            You do realise that the convention is to post comments that are relevant to the post? 🙂

          • Dr manhattan says:

            and they are. any person of little or more education should know that.

          • John Bolch says:

            Ah, the ad hominem. Excellent.

        • John Bolch says:

          +1 🙂

          • Paul says:

            I’m fine with John responding.
            Where family law is concerned. There are questions to be answered.
            I agree with what the good Dr has said.
            Funny that both of us read the article and extracted the same from it.
            I read the post just fine
            John. You were saying people should read the Charlie Guard case before critacising the judges. Fair point. Can’t argue with that.
            But thats like saying everyone interested in the case are ignorant of law and are educated by tabloids. ‘Aka thick’. Im not sure thats true. It is entirely possible that people have looked at the legal persective and still entirely disagreed with this judgement.
            This is not a straight forward case.
            Rhetorical question: If a doctor told you that a certain treatment would save your life, would you tell them that you think another treatment would be better? – Thats actually not unheard of. More an more people are turning to alternative medicine. Especially with reguards Radio therapy and keimo therapy. Quite a few people are suspicious of it or reject it.
            I would certainly ask for a second opinion.
            Entirely misses the point of this case.
            If a Dr told you that no treatment could save your child. Then another Dr from the US says there is an experimental treatment that might. What would John Bolche do ???

          • Dr manhattan says:

            The problem with life on planet earth is that humans have become so far detached from the natural world with rules, regulations and laws interfering in every nook and cranny to the point of madness.
            and when there are so many middle class people making a lot of money from that control structure and going along with its views and demands to keep the machine happy, it has now actually reached the point of sickening.
            the Charlie Gard case clearly Violated Human Rights and i wont have anyone tell me otherwise.

          • John Bolch says:

            The Charlie Gard case didn’t violate human rights.

          • Dr manhattan says:

            im not going to argue on this.
            its my personal view that it did and im sticking to it. if that makes me appear some kind of simpleton in your mind then i hope you enjoy the thought.

  3. D says:

    Almost into fake news 🙂 … but understanding the agenda of the reporting and then being able to see an account as a record without a journalistic twist is good.
    Thanks for the links to the sources of information.

  4. The Transparency Project says:

    Or those who want to find a judgment or read an explanation of a case or news story can check The Transparency Project website. We covered the Gard case extensively and the feedback from readers (lawyer and non lawyer) was positive.

  5. Michele Simmons says:

    The Judgements we read online on Bailii and others similar, cannot always be relied on where there are wrong facts. The LIP may be able to challenge any wrong facts but it does not always mean they will be removed. Then there are further obstacles if ones are restricted or gagged.

    • John Bolch says:

      Erm… this is about the law, which essentially comprises statute, rules and case law (i.e. precedent). If you are involved in a case then precedent could be very important to you. Law reports can also teach you a lot about the law, as I said in the post.

  6. John Bolch says:

    Rhetorical question: If a doctor told you that a certain treatment would save your life, would you tell them that you think another treatment would be better?

  7. Yvie says:

    People have a lot more trust in doctors.

  8. John Bolch says:

    OK, I shall repeat this just once more. This post is about what the law is, not what you think it should be.
    So, for example, if you see a report of a case in the mainstream media that seems to back up your view that the family justice system is biased, the advice of any lawyer would be to read the law report to find out exactly what the court did, and why. It may be very different from what the mainstream media said.

  9. John Bolch says:

    Comments on this post:
    Me: This is the law.
    Commenter: No it isn’t.
    Me: Well, actually it is.
    Commenter: No it isn’t.
    Me: I think you’ll find it is.
    Commenter: No it isn’t.
    Me: I give up…

  10. Stitchedup says:

    I hate to say it, but I’m kind of with John on this one. His post really just seems to be about reading judgments and where to find them.

  11. Sam says:

    1. What about when records cant be found?
    2. Is it normal to have 4 differant numbers to 1 child case an 3 differant judges over 26 weeks?
    3.a statement of truth and when a sw1/sw2 eg where havent met other parents but can submit parental assesments? And have to bequalified over 3 years with regards to adoption/foster thats the law surly in what its written?
    Just a quick question, is this normal to be allowing the above 3 and would anyone call it justice under the un convention(human rights) surly a judge should have stopped this when asked not telling appellant not to talk?
    Maybe if many are like this the public can see there is no justice in family proceddings and denying famulies and children appeals when having merits…
    You do a great blog john juatneeded qlarification on this.or opinion.

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