Family Courts – Secrecy No Longer…?

22 July, 2013

Lord Justice Munby has, in the last week, issued draft guidance for the publishing of judgements in the Family Court concerning arrangements for children.

Whilst only a small minority of cases concerning the arrangements for children whose parents have separated ever make it to court, and only a small number of those cases require a judge to make the final decision, it could affect hundreds of cases each year.

The effect of this new decision will not put details of every divorce case on the internet. What it will do, however, is create a presumption that, when the living arrangements of children are decided by a judge after, what is very often, many months of argument, details of that decision will probably be made available on the internet. The identities of the children and their parents will be kept secret, but the identities of the judge, the lawyers involved and any expert witnesses, are likely to be published.

Some will say that the effect of all this will be very little; we have not after all seen a rush of journalists to the Family Court looking for stories on a daily basis since the rules of media access were relaxed a few years ago. It could, though, lead to such a volume of material being made available as to be too much for any one person to sift through and gain any meaningful knowledge from.

The point is, I think, that we live in a world with more information at our fingertips than we ever have known before and that is what our society expects. The message from Lord Justice Munby is that, unless there is a good reason why not, these decisions should be made public in a way that protects privacy but makes them available for those that want to find them. If it aids understanding of matrimonial law, it might just be a good thing.

For those that do not want their case details published, one solution is obvious – negotiate!