Transparency and the publication of family court judgments

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

Project details

The Nuffield Foundation is funding a research project led by Dr Julie Doughty on transparency in the family courts.

Transparency is a very troubling issue in family justice. Accusations of ‘secret’ courts and unaccountability generate distrust, but concerns have also been raised about risks to children of publicity about cases in which they are involved. Courts try to achieve a balance between individual competing interests and rights, but the law is complex and confusing. Efforts at law reform over the past decade have failed. Extreme views are expressed on both sides; it may seem that the opposing arguments are irreconcilable.

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 freely available online on the BAILII website. However, limitations and inconsistencies have been found in this system.

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.

It is difficult for professionals, involved groups and the media to engage with each other without an evidence base about what is being published. There is a risk of stalemate, or ill-informed decisions being made about future steps in achieving transparency. This study aims to address this by analysing patterns in the published judgments; media coverage of the family courts; and the views of key stakeholders.

Research survey

The research team is undertaking a survey of the views and experiences of family court judges. Please complete this survey and associated consent form to help us with our research:

Evaluation of the 'transparency' practice guidance on publishing family court judgements DOC, 30 KB

Survey consent form DOCX, 62.4 KB

The project will:

  • Identify patterns in the judgments published on BAILII
  • Analyse media coverage of family court cases
  • Obtain views of professionals involved in these issues
  • Explore potential for further socio-legal research on the developing area of public legal education.

The project team

Lead

Julie Doughty

Dr Julie Doughty

Lecturer in Law

Team


Support

This research was made possible through the support of the following organisations: