Some family hearings could be made public, says head of Family Division

Family hearings could be heard in public and advocates’ documents given to the press under plans outlined by, Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division.

This week Lord Justice Munby published a five-page paper outlining potential changes to family hearings, in which he said he was seeking ‘preliminary pre-consultation views’ on the possibility of hearing certain types of family case in public.

In the document he indicated that after a period of consultation, specific proposals would be piloted before a final ruling was put in place.

As part of his consultation on changes to the system, he is seeking opinions on the types of cases that might be appropriate for public hearing, what restrictions and safeguards would be needed, and what form a pilot might take should it be given the go ahead.

He has also proposed disclosing some case papers, including documents prepared by advocates, case summaries, position statements and skeleton arguments as well as expert reports to the media, subject to a set of strict restrictions and safeguards.

He said that any disclosed documents will remain confidential, unless the judge orders otherwise, and any copying, onward transmission or disclosure by the media would be a contempt.

Munby said the move would help the media’s understanding of cases and assist them in their role as watchdogs.

“There is a clear need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system.

“The public has a legitimate interest in being able to read what is being done by judges in their name,” Said Lord Justice Munby.

But he added: that the process of reform must be ‘incremental and informed’ at every stage by the views obtained from consultation with everyone who may be affected.