The secretive Court of Protection is to open up to the press under a pilot scheme which launches today.
The Court makes decisions about the personal welfare and property affairs of people who are deemed to lack the capacity to make to do so for themselves.
The pilot scheme will apply to new proceedings issued from today onwards and changes the default position to one where hearings are held in public with reporting restrictions to protect identities.
The Court of Protection’s main base is in London, 42 High Holborn, but it also sits throughout England and Wales.
Court of Protection judgments have been routinely published since 2010 and serious medical cases (such as a decision to stop life support) are held in public, with the identities of those concerned kept anonymous.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has also said it is amending the way in which court lists are displayed, so that they provide a short descriptor of what the case is about.
Sir James Munby, president of the Court of Protection, said: “For the last six years accredited media have been able to attend Family Court cases and have been better informed about the work of the Family Court as a result. It is logical to look at extending this greater transparency to the Court of Protection, provided the right balance can be struck to safeguard the privacy of people who lack capacity to make their own decisions.”
Vice president of the Court of Protection Mr Justice Charles said: “I have long supported this move towards more public hearings to promote a wider understanding of the work and approach of the Court of Protection and improve its performance and that of those who appear in it. I am aware that others hold different views on whether hearings should generally be in public and hope that the pilot will provide useful evidence to weigh the rival arguments.”
Justice Minister Caroline Dinenage said: “It is our ambition to increase the transparency and public accountability of our courts.
"While the privacy of the people involved will continue to be protected, it is also important that the public and media are able to see how justice is done.”
The pilot is expected to run in all regions for at least six months (with the possibility of extension) to allow for the changes to be fully tested.