Lawyers erring too much on the side of caution when anonymising family judgments could undermine judicial efforts to increase transparency in the family courts, a campaign group has warned.
The Transparency Project has published guidance to help parties understand the 'complicated issue' of publishing judgments about family matters.
In 2014 Sir James Munby, president of the family division, said greater transparency was needed in family courts and the Court of Protection to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system.
Munby, in his guidance, said: '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).'
However, following an initial surge in publication rates, The Transparency Project says the number of published judgments is declining.
The charity says its latest guidance aims to involve families in the decision-making process about publication and with the process of anonymising judgments so that privacy protection is 'robust and effective'. The guidance includes an 'anonymisation checklist' to help those tasked with anonymising or checking a judgment.
The guidance states: 'For pragmatic reasons lawyers to whom this task are delegated may tend to err on the side of caution, removing more detail than is strictly necessary. There is a risk that such an approach could defeat the purpose of publication, that is to properly inform the public about what is done in their name.'
'There is no point in publishing a judgment that says nothing once redacted - if a judgment seems pointless we suggest that either the anonymisation strategy has probably been too enthusiastic or, if not, that the judgment should probably not be published at all.'
The charity stresses that the guide is not judicially approved. It was funded by a grant from the Legal Education Foundation, another charity.
Barrister Lucy Reed, the project's chair, said no materials are available for families involved in family court cases to help them understand why and how judgments might be published.
She added: 'Our guide aims to fill that gap. It isn't practical or appropriate for every judgment in every family court case to be published, but we hope that it will both help make sure judgments are reliably anonymised before publication.'