Children who are removed from their parents under secret court judgments must be given access to the court’s decision when they are adults, the most senior family judge says
Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, has made significant changes to the family court system in a bid to improve the transparency and accountability of the courts.
In January he issued guidance to the family courts and the Court of Protection that more decisions by judges should be published in an effort to bring about “an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments”.
His latest statements concerned the lasting affect that the court’s decision can have on a child’s life. He said that is was of “great concern” that the judgments of all family court judges were not routinely transcribed and published.
This is a “major issue” for the children affected by judgments, he said, who are then unable to find out at a later date why a judge came to a decision that may have affected the course of the rest of their life.
He said that there was a “pressing need” for a “definitive record” for concerned parties to refer to if future contentions over the judgment occur.
Sir James added: “More importantly, in future years: five years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years or fifty years into the future, a child who may, for example, be subject of adoption proceedings, is able to see what the judge actually said.”
“My focus immediately is on transparency, disclosure into the public arena but there is an equally important need for the judgements to be made available for the families. That of course has cost implications.”
Sir James Munby has made it clear that he intends to make further changes to the family court system, including increasing the categories of court documents available to journalists, extending the number of judgements that will be published on a mandatory basis and applying the new transparency rules to circuit judges as well as those in the High Court.
Sir James said January’s guidance was already having a “visible affect” on secrecy within the family court system with many more judgments now available to the public.