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Children separated from their families must have access to court records says senior family judge

Published: 24th March 2014

The President of the Family Division and Britain's most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, has called on the family courts and the Court of Protection to allow children who have been separated from their families access to court records, so they understand the reasons behind a judge's decision.

Sir James expressed a great concern that the judgements of all family court cases were not routinely recorded and published. He believes that once they reach a certain age, children affected by such judgments should be able to find out why certain decisions were made that could potentially have shaped the rest of their lives.

He also declared that there was a pressing need for records to be kept for concerned parties to refer to in the event of any contentions in the future.

"More importantly, in future years; five years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years or fifty years into the future, a child who may, for example, be subject of adoption proceedings, is able to see what the judge actually said" said Sir James.

"My focus immediately is on transparency, disclosure into the public arena but there is an equally important need for the judgements to be made available for the families. That of course has cost implications."

Sir James has been calling for greater transparency in the family court system for some time and in January, he pushed for "an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments" by highlighting that judge's decisions should be published and available for concerned parties to see.

This now means that in order to prevent judgements being released, judges have to provide "compelling reasons" to stop publication.

As a result, there have been hundreds of parental access and care order decisions that were published in a move to end secrecy in the family courts.

This was partially motivated by pressure from MPs and fathers' groups who had accused the family courts of lacking transparency, with just under 100,000 private hearings in 2013. The Court of Appeal have also exposed a number of secret cases following some 'disgraceful' decisions made by local authorities.

Sir James has pledged that these are just the first steps in changing the family court system and he is hopeful that a number of other significant changes will take place in the near future. Some of these planned changes include an increased number of categories for court documents available to the media, an increased number of judgements that will be published on a mandatory basis and he hopes to apply more transparency rules to circuit judges as well as those in the High Court.

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