Lawyers group urges caution on openness in family court proceedings

01 Nov 2006

Family cases should always be heard in private unless there are compelling reasons to invite the public in, say family lawyers.

Family law group Resolution has welcomed the DCA consultation on transparency and openness in the family courts as a starting point for a full public debate, but warns that the current proposals will not achieve the right balance between openness and the protection of privacy - particularly for children.

Andrew Greensmith, Chairman of the 5,000-strong group says that while Resolution is “instinctively in favour of greater openness and transparency, this constitutional imperative must be balanced by the individual right to confidentiality and privacy, particularly for children.”

In a response submitted to the DCA, Resolution suggests that an expanded court inspectorate would meet the need for transparency while protecting privacy. The group believes this should be coupled with greater publication of anonymised judgements.

“A proper watchdog role should be more formal and should enable the scrutineer to make enforceable recommendations for change - the media could not have this role,” says Andrew.

“Currently the courts inspectorate oversees the work of the courts and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). This role should be enhanced to allow the inspectorate to consider the judiciary, while ensuring safeguards to protect the constitutional independence of the judges, and the inspectorate should have lay members who can represent consumer and public interest as well as inspecting the work of the family courts.

“We believe that this would be a cost effective means of opening up the family courts while maintaining privacy for parties. Even if the use of an enhanced inspectorate does not provide the eventual solution to the conundrum of opening the courts while maintaining parties’ privacy, it would be a positive step in a process that we strongly believe must be measured and gradual.”