President of the Family Division begins consultation on increasing court transparency
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division (the part of the High Court dealing exclusively with family law issues) has issued a consultation document seeking the views of family court users – solicitors, barristers, lay advisers, academics and families – in relation to various aims relating to increasing transparency in the family court system.
The five page consultation document sets out some of the President’s own ideas for increasing transparency including: releasing more judgments to the public, enhancing listing information to give more detail to the public – and the press and disclosure of certain court documents to the media. It should be noted that the consultation is by no means limited to the above issues and that they are suggested as a guide – views are welcomed on any topic that respondents think may improve transparency.
The President’s suggestions
Munby notes that there has already been an increase in the number of judgments from the Family Division published and that some of the consequences are as yet unknown. The President particularly draws attention to the potential harm to a child who discovers a judgment relating to them online in the future and learns upsetting information.
It is widely acknowledged that the publication of judgments is helpful for law students and practitioners alike but it is heartening that President Munby is focussing on the welfare of children – the principal concern of the court in any family law case where children are involved.
However, just like financial investments where past performance is no indication of future profits, every family law case turns on its own facts and the published judgment in an earlier case should always be applied to the current case with caution. With the increasing numbers of litigants in person in the family justice system, is there a risk that parents could come to court with unrealistic expectations of the outcome.
It is also suggested that cases be named and listed in a more meaningful way so that court lists are more useful to those reading them. This would not, however, extend as far as naming the parties involved on daily lists. This suggestions seems to be a helping hand for the media but it is not clear how it would be of assistance to court users themselves.
How you can get involved
You can find the consultation paper here and submit your views to the President’s office by email.