Are public divorce hearings the way forward?

2 February, 2017

The current principle in family disputes is that hearings are held in private. This means that unless cases are appealed in the Court of Appeal, details of hearings and pay outs are not made available to the media. However, under radical new reforms proposed by Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, family hearings could soon be taking place under the glare of the public eye.

Munby has been calling for greater transparency in family proceedings for many years, believing that there is a need for greater openness to improve people’s understanding and confidence in the court system. His proposals are formed of two strands. Firstly, to launch a trial in which some hearings will be held in public and secondly, to make certain documents available to the media. In formulating his proposal, Munby has worked closely with judges in Australia, where family proceedings have been held in public for the last 30 years.

There is however widespread opposition to Munby’s proposals, with critics arguing that public hearings could stop vulnerable women from bringing and taking part in family proceedings. There is particular concern in relation to the safeguarding of children’s interests with organisations such as Resolution arguing that such reforms could result in lasting harm to children, who may end up with details of their private family life blazoned across the press, never to be retrieved.

If public proceedings are deemed to be the way forward, families will at least have the certainty to make informed decisions as to whether they wish to proceed in privacy and confidence with alternative dispute resolution options, or whether they wish to battle it out in an open court. On the other hand, only time will tell what, if any, impact public hearings will have on both children and adults.

Further guidance on Munby’s proposals is expected to be released early this year.

If you would like further information in relation to anything discussed in this post, or any aspect of family law, contact Claire Tollefson on 01892 506191 or at claire.tollefson@crippspg.co.uk.