More judgments from the Family Court and Court of Protection will be made available to the public and media to increase transparency and public confidence, the head of the Family Division has announced.
Sir James Munby, who is also president of the Court of Protection, issued practice guidance to judges on the publication of judgments, following his draft guidance published last July.
The guidance takes effect from 3 February. It divides case into two categories – judgments that the judge must ordinarily allow to be published and those that may be published.
Permission to publish a judgment should always be given where a judge concludes publication would be in the public interest, whether or not a request has been made by a party or the media.
The guidance sets out examples of where permission for publication should be given, unless there are ‘compelling’ reasons not to.
In family cases, they include judgments arising from ‘substantial’ contested fact-finding hearings of serious allegations, including allegations of significant physical, emotional or sexual harm; the making or refusal or discharge of a final care or supervision order; and the making or refusal of a placement or adoption order.
For proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court relating to incapacitated or vulnerable adults, they include judgments concerning the deprivation of liberty; giving or withholding serious medical treatment; placing of a person in an institution and a declaration as to capacity to marry.
In all other cases, the starting point is that permission may be given for publication whenever a party or the media applies for it.
In deciding whether to publish a judgment, a judge must have regard to all the circumstances, rights arising under the European Convention on Human Rights and the effect upon any current or potential criminal proceedings.
In all cases where a permission is given, public authorities and expert witnesses should be named unless there are ‘compelling reasons’ not to.
Children who are the subject of family proceedings and other members of their family, and the person who is the subject of Court of Protection proceedings and members of their family should generally not be named.
Anonymity should not normally go beyond protecting the privacy of the children and adults involved unless there are ‘compelling’ reasons to do so.
Munby proposes an ‘incremental’ approach to the change, with further guidance and more formal practice directions issued in ‘due course’.
Munby said the guidance 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.
He said: ‘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.’
Read the family court guidance.