Welcome to another week.

The government has launched a consultation asking the public what they think of the state of transparency inside our legal system, and what it can do to make the system more open.

The consultation’s introduction says, “Open justice is a fundamental principle at the very heart of our justice system and vital to the rule of law – justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. Its history and importance in law can be traced back to before the Magna Carta. It is a principle which allows the public to scrutinise and understand the workings of the law, building trust and confidence in our justice system.”

The blurb on the GOV.UK website is far too long, but essentially, there are 65 questions spanning 10 areas: Open justice, court and tribunal listings, accessing courts and tribunals, remote observation and livestreaming, broadcasting, single justice procedure, publication of judgments & sentencing remarks, access to court documents and information, data access and reuse, and public legal education.

As Researching Reform focuses on the family court system and its considerable flaws, we are not interested in the parts of the consultation that seek to feed information to the public with a view to “building trust and confidence in our justice system” as we believe trust should be earned, and are far more concerned with transparency as a means to improve the Family Court and hold it to account.

RR’s initial thoughts include:

  • The removal of a presumption in family court hearings that natural parents and children cannot discuss their cases with third parties. The data (judgments, transcripts etc) from the proceedings belongs to the families and there is a strong human rights argument against denying families the ability to discuss their cases with whoever they want, which may also be in violation of existing legislation.
  • Powers to report should be taken out of the legal system’s hands and placed in the hands of parties to the case and journalists, in line with open justice principles. Allowing the system to decide access to its own processes does not make access impartial or fair.
  • The development and application of a robust test for family law cases whenever a natural parent, child, carer, professional connected to the case, or journalist believes the case should be reported in the news, and makes an application for coverage.
    • The test would place children’s rights at the heart of its framework, to be weighed up against human rights and public interest arguments.
    • Where a natural parent or child whom the case is about does not wish for the proceedings to be published, that request should be put through the above child rights-focused test.
  • Family court listings should be placed on a dedicated and easily accessible website, and uploaded in good time ahead of the hearing, with details about the judge sitting that day, the court room number and the time of the hearing. These details should be kept up to date until the hearing starts.
  • Transcripts for every family law hearing which is reported on should be placed on a public website, along with the judgment.
  • Where permission to report is granted, journalists should be able to have access to every document and piece of evidence in the case.

Responses to the consultation’s questions should be sent to openjusticepolicy@justice.gov.uk, and the consultation itself closes on 7 September, 2023.

You can access the consultation here.

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