As I sat at my desk today I was surprised to see it beginning to snow outside, it was only for a few minutes and it didn’t stick, but it was snowing all the same. When I left the office to go for lunch I could tell why, it was bitterly cold outside and the sky was threatening to unleash an almighty downpour. I made a quick dash to the shop for a Sandwich, which I decided to have at my desk in order not to risk being caught out in a snow storm.
Whilst eating my lunch I take a quick read of a guidance note entitled Transparency in the Family Courts, Publication of Judgments, published by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division. The guidance was issued on the 16th January 2014. The opening paragraph states that the ‘Guidance (together with similar Guidance issued at the same time for the Court of Protection) is intended to bring about an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments in family courts and the Court of Protection.’ Sir Munby stated that ‘In both courts there is a need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system. At present too few judgments are made available to the public, which has a legitimate interest in being able to read what is being done by the judges in its name. The Guidance will have the effect of increasing the number of judgments available for publication (even if they will often need to be published in appropriately anonymised form).’
It is thought that this guidance is the beginning of a number of changes within the system with the aim of achieving greater transparency within the system. Within the Family division the guidance applies to both the High Court and the County court. In both the Family Courts and the Court of Protection the guidance is focused on both judgments that would ordinarily be published and those that could be considered to publishable. Those that would ordinarily be published include those where the judge concludes that it is in the public interest to publish the case and would take in to account whether or not a request has been made by a party or the media. In the case of Family Court proceedings it would include hearings such as those where allegations of significant physical, emotional or sexual harm, have been determined; those where a final care order has been made or refused; and those where an adoption order has been made or refused. In the case of Court of Protection hearings it would include applications such as those for the giving or withholding of medical treatment; and for the deprivation of liberty. Those that may be considered publishable would in both courts be judge publishable if the judge decides that permission for the judgment to be published should be given and that permission may be given for the judgment to be published whenever a party or an accredited member of the media applies for an order permitting publication.
Within the Family Court anonymity within the judgement will be decided by the appropriate solicitors but in the Court of Protection, if anonymity is not already present in the case, it will be decided by the judge. According to the guidance, ‘in all cases where permission is given for a judgment to be published, the version of the judgment approved for publication shall be made available, upon payment of any appropriate charge that may be required, to any person who requests a copy’. Further the court shall, in all applicable cases, as soon as reasonably practicable be the full transcribed judgment on the BAILII website.
The full guidance papers on both the Court of Protection and the Family Court can be found through the below links, for those of you interested in reading further.
And on that note I am off home, hopefully the downpour has either passed, or will hold off long enough for me to get back to the warmth of my flat.
Family Court: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Guidance/transparency-in-the-family-courts-jan2014.pdf
Court of Protection: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Guidance/transparency-in-the-cop.pdf
Photo by Eric E Johnson via Flickr under a Creative Commons license