Privacy should not mean secrecy: Calls for more transparency in family court proceedings

Privacy should not mean secrecy: Calls for more transparency in family court proceedings

Ian Maxwell

Scotland should follow the lead of England in committing to publishing more family law judgments, campaigners have said.

President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane has committed himself to a “major shift in culture and process” to increase public knowledge of what happens in family courts in England and Wales.

He wants to facilitate accredited journalist reporting of court proceedings and also to increase the number of published judgments from family courts.

Publishing the findings of a recent review of transparency in family law proceedings he said his objective is to focus on “the dual goals of enhancing public confidence in the family justice system, whilst at the same time maintaining the anonymity of those families and children who turn to it for protection”.

Drawing on the experiences of close to 1,000 enquiries over the last year, Shared Parenting Scotland said it shares the concern south of the border that there is a knowledge gap on family court proceedings that disadvantages parties and tends to undermine public confidence when justice is not seen to be done.

Ian Maxwell, national manager, said: “It is our perception that comparatively few judgments are published in private law cases in Scotland. This has been a concern of ours for some years. We believe publication of anonymised judgments would underpin improved general public understanding of what is happening in courts.

“Sir Andrew has an aspiration that 10 per cent of judgments will be published on grounds of transparency and confidence-building in England and Wales.

“We entirely accept that family courts have to protect the privacy of proceedings. Unfortunately ‘privacy’ is easily translated as ‘secrecy’ by critics of the current lack of information in the public domain. We suggest publication of judgments will help parents who cannot agree arrangements for parenting their children understand what may lie ahead for them if they ask courts to take over such important decisions for them and their children.

“That may help at least some – and their legal advisers - to put their own disagreement in perspective and choose an alternative method of dispute resolution. We are passionate advocates that parents should be given support at the time of separation when they are in most pain and distress and often bewilderment to find a way of putting the overall interests of their children first and to look beyond the immediate heat of their conflict.”

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