Top judge promises to 'open the world' to the work of secretive family courts

A top judge yesterday vowed to open up family courts to media scrutiny in a bid to improve public confidence in the system.

Addressing the Society of Editors annual conference in London Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division and the Court of Protection said he wanted to “open to the world” his work.

The Court of Protection, which deals with the property, financial affairs and personal welfare of people who lack mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, is closed to the media.

And family courts, which deal with divorce cases and adoption among other personal issues, are open for journalists to attend but they can be prevented from reporting details and parents involved in cases are often prevented by law from speaking publicly.

Munby said: "It is vital that public confidence in the family justice system is maintained or, if eroded, restored. There is a clear and obvious public interest in maintaining the confidence of the public at large in the courts.

"It is vitally important, if the administration of justice is to be promoted and public confidence in the courts maintained, that justice be administered in public – or at least in a manner which enables its workings to be properly scrutinised – so that the judges and other participants in the process remain visible and amenable to comment and criticism."

He added: "We must be open to the world – much more open that at present – in what we do both in the family courts and in the Court of Protection."

Munby said changes to primary legislation are unlikely in the near future, so the necessary changes must be achieved within the existing framework.

After introducing final guidelines on the publication of judgements, the judge said he would then consider steps to allow the media access to at least some of the documents used in court.


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