In a speech last week, President of the Family Division, James Munby, called on the government to allow journalists to have full access to evidence submitted in family court cases.

Munby gave the speech during an event looking at ways in which social media affects the family courts.

The President also said that secrecy within family courts meant that judges were able to get away with what are sometimes signficant mistakes. Despite suggesting that factors like exhaustion contributed to judicial error, he went on to say that judges should not be immune from criticism, and that journalists should be able to access the evidence in family cases as well as attend hearings, with a view to offering an analysis of what unfolds inside the system:

“The simple fact is that at present journalists can’t do that without access to the evidence and without reporting what went on in court and saying well, this judge seems to be listening to a different witness than I, and the impression I got from listening to this witness was X,Y,Z and the judge says A,B,C. So I think there are very real problems there… We’ve got to be much more honest about this, and if we are honest about it, things go wrong.”

Munby also offered an interesting sentiment about the often confusing and overly complicated legal process in care proceedings:

“I have a terrible feeling that if you actually stopped some of the parents in these care cases as they were going out of court at the end and you asked them what was going on, what’s been happening, what’s the answer, they’d be unable to explain…And that is an indictment of our system, not of them.”

Whilst Munby is pushing to make evidence in family cases more available, he is unlikely to be suggesting that the rights of families and children, including anonymity where appropriate, should be waived in order to do this. At present, there are rules in place which restrict the kinds of information journalists can share publicly, but this latest suggestion from the President is less about exposing vulnerable families, and much more about highlighting the system’s weaknesses.

Researching Reform fully supports The President’s call to make evidence available to journalists, and hopes that this kind of reporting becomes the norm in future.