Transparency in the Family Court
A longstanding view held about the Family Courts in England and Wales is the need for greater transparency. The Family Courts are finding ways of creating more openness in the Family Courts without prejudicing the confidentiality of family law proceedings.
It is accepted that transparency is needed to improve public understanding of how the court process works and to build confidence in the court system. For those with a legitimate interest, it is important that Judgments are available so that individuals can read what a Judge has said at a hearing.
Transparency in the Family Court needs to be carefully balanced. Article 8 of The European Convention on Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to a private and family life and on the other hand, Article 10 provides that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. Neither article is more important. The Court must apply the ‘ultimate balancing test’, it is not enough to simply say that a Judgment cannot be published, providing confidentiality of the proceedings is not breached then openness should precede.
The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) publishes Judgments decided by the Courts. BAILII was set up to assist the need for transparency in the Courts after concerns peaked about the lack of availability of court judgments.
An example of transparency in the Family Court is a Judgment that has been published on BAILII that Emery Johnson Astills Care department have recently been involved with. The case reflects the current state of Leicestershire Social Services, and His Honour Judge Bellamy openly criticises the local authority for “meandering along”. It has been made clear that the local authority have now put in place “new systems to improve and oversee the way assessments are carried out”. Until recently this Judgment from the Family Court would not have been published. The reform of transparency in the Family Court means that the public can see the changes that are continuously being made to improve our family court system.