Resolution urges caution over plans to open up family courts

10 Jul 2006

Resolution, the leading family law group, has welcomed the debate about increasing transparency in the family courts. But it has urged the Government to proceed only with great caution - to protect vulnerable children and adults who may be at further risk as a result of any move towards greater openness.

Children’s views should be heard, and they should have access to their own legal representation, insists Resolution’s Chairman, Andrew Greensmith:

“It is important that justice is seen to be done, but greater openness must not be at the expense of a child’s right to privacy – children should not suffer intrusion into their private lives simply because their families are in crisis.

“We acknowledge that currently prohibitions are so tight that there can’t be any sensible debate, and accusations that the family justice system favours one parent or another cannot be examined.

“Nevertheless, the welfare report provided to the court should address the issue of whether publicity in a given case would be harmful or not to the child - the issue should be considered from the child’s point of view.”

Resolution members have highlighted key areas of concern:
lack of public scrutiny creates secrecy – more openness would create greater confidence in the family justice system
the public has a right to know how policies are applied by the courts; the courts should be accountable and should be seen to be accountable
some cases deal with the most sensitive issues around serious allegations of harm and abuse. Openness risks sensitive information being misused by some, with devastating effects, rather than serving to promote greater understanding
anonymity does not always protect the child. Maintaining anonymity in smaller communities is extremely difficult.

Resolution recommends a staged approach to change:
canvassing the views of court users and children involved in proceedings
identifying safe ways of anonymising the identities of family members and children in particular
experimenting with anonymised judgements and carrying out a risk benefit analysis.

Notes to Editors:
In Clibbery v Allen the following considerations were set out as to why the family courts should not open their doors:
Protecting the child’s privacy and confidentiality, which can continue long after the case
Protecting the client’s privacy and confidentiality. The right to a private life is a tenet of the European Convention on Human Rights.
S.98 protection against self incrimination.
The implied promise to those who give evidence that it will be private.

Resolution’s 5,000 members are family law practitioners committed to the non-adversarial resolution of family disputes. Resolution members abide by a Code of Practice which emphasises a constructive approach to family problems and encourages solutions that take into account the needs of the whole family and the best interests of any children in particular.