Transparency and privacy in family courts

Over several years research has identified concerns about the privacy and safeguarding needs of children involved in court proceedings – most recently in a review of children judgments on the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII)In addition, there are concerns about the extent to which the information that is available to the public is an accurate representation of the work of the family courts. 

We are funding two projects relating to these issues:

  • Dr Julia Brophy is leading a project to produce guidance for judges to assist them in better and more consistent anonymisation practices in published judgments concerning children and young people.
  • Dr Julie Doughty is leading a project to evaluate the responses to, and effects of, guidance issued by the President of the Family Division to make more of their judgments publicly available.
Improving anonymity

Dr Brophy’s project builds on the review of children judgments which demonstrates how ‘geographical indicators’ and the presentation of sensitive and/or intimate information can enable young people to be identified placing some at risk of further harm.

She is investigating whether new guidance can be developed that improves anonymisation practices without loss of key information that enables readers to understand the process and how decisions are reached by courts.

Dr Brophy is also exploring any equivalent guidance in similar jurisdictions and information data on the volume of judgments published and cost data available.

The draft guidance will be discussed at the Family Law Bar Association conference and at the President’s conference (both in May 2016).

Evaluation of responses and effects

In January 2014, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, issued guidance to judges across England and Wales to make more of their judgments publicly available on the BAILII website.

Dr Julie Doughty’s project aims to evaluate the responses to, and effects of, this guidance after initial investigation revealed limitations and inconsistences in the way the system has operated so far. These problems include:

  • Inconsistency amongst courts in following the guidance.
  • Too few judgments being published.
  • Delays in sending transcripts.
  • Failures to safely anonymise judgments and protect against identification.
  • Different approaches to reporting restrictions.
  • Difficulties in navigating the BAILII website.
  • Inaccurate media stories despite access to judgments.

The project will analyse patterns in the published judgments; media coverage of the family courts; and the views of judges and other key stakeholders on public legal education and safe reporting.

Findings will be published in autumn 2016. 

Project details

 

1. Guidance for judges: children judgments on Bailii website

Researcher

Dr Julia Brophy, Association of Lawyers for Children

Grant amount and duration

£16,900

February 2016 - June 2016

2. Evaluating the responses to, and effects of, judicial guidance on publishing family court judgments involving children and young people

Researcher

Dr Julie Doughty, Cardiff University Law School

Grant amount and duration

£15,164

April 2016 - February 2017

Funding programme

Both projects were funded by our Law in Society programme