As the family justice system faces renewed pressure to take a good look at its working methods, calls to open up family courts so that journalists can analyse evidence in these cases are coming from home, and abroad.
The President of the Family Division, James Munby, will be retiring in July, and whilst he has become increasingly vocal about the problems inside the Family Court during his term as president, he’s clearly chosen to use his last few months to push for more radical reform. We announced at the start of 2018 that Munby was our judge to watch this year, and he isn’t disappointing.
His recent comments about allowing journalists to have access to evidence in family cases, which he made at a seminar on13th March, have been followed up by another push to allow this access. Munby repeated his stance at a lecture he gave at Edinburgh University last week, telling attendees:
“A vital aspect of the ongoing transformation in the family justice system has to be reform of our still creaking rules about access to and reporting of family cases. Nothing short of radical reform will enable us to rid ourselves of the relentlessly repeated and inevitably damaging charge that we operate a system of private – some say secret – justice.”
Munby isn’t the only one who sees the pressing need to allow evidence to be accessed by the media. Over in Canada, where they appear to be ahead of the curve on this issue, a high profile child protection case is making waves, and not just because the details of the case are controversial.
In the case of JP v British Columbia, a Court of Appeal has granted journalists the right to review affidavits, written submissions, and other materials filed with the Court. The case itself shares many of the same desperate hallmarks of our own family cases in England. After a lengthy trial, Law Diva’s blog tells us that the British Columbia Supreme Court found the following:
“B.C.’s child protection authorities had negligently permitted a father to sexually abuse his children while the youngsters were in the custody of the Ministry. The Court found that the government’s failure to protect the children was “egregious, negligent, and a breach of duty” and government social workers showed a “reckless disregard to their obligation to protect children.””
The expert witness had also lied to the court during the trial. His testimony had played a significant role in the original finding that the father had sexually abused his children. Depressingly familiar too, was the way in which the court ignored due process to facilitate the expert witness’ point of view:
“The legal profession was shocked when the Court of Appeal reviewed the evidence and determined that the so-called expert had defrauded the court. Their awe was not a criticism of the high court’s findings, but that the lower court has been so taken in by Dr. Reeves and the utter disregard for proper procedure.”
Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to the development in British Columbia.