Decisions by secret courts that can lead to children being taken from their parents or old people forced into care homes are finally to be opened up to public scrutiny.
Under rules set out yesterday, future judgments in the family courts and the Court of Protection must be made public except in cases where there is a clear reason to dictate they should not be.
Expert witnesses, including social workers, should also be named in public, as should anyone found responsible for wrongdoing.
The landmark changes break a silence that has surrounded family justice for nearly 100 years.
They also mark a major victory for the Daily Mail which has campaigned against secret courts and exposed a series of major scandals over the past year resulting from justice being conducted behind closed doors.
The new rules, laid down by the most senior family judge, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, say that judgments in the family courts and the Court of Protection must always be publicised unless there are ‘compelling reasons’ why not.
Only children and adults caught up in disputes and members of their families should be protected by anonymity.
The guidelines warn that secrecy prevents families who have been involved in cases from complaining when they believe they have suffered injustice.
Sir James said in guidance sent to judges that there would be ‘an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments in family courts and the Court of Protection’.
He added: ‘In both courts there is a need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system.
‘At present too few judgments are made available to the public, which has a legitimate interest in being able to read what is being done by judges in its name.’
The Mail’s campaign revealed last April that the Court of Protection – set up by the last Labour government to deal with the affairs of those too ill to make decisions for themselves – had jailed a woman in secret and without publishing any record.
A Birmingham judge imprisoned Wanda Maddocks, 50, for contempt of court for trying to get her father out of a care home where he had been ordered to stay.
Miss Maddocks had no lawyer to represent her, and no judgment was published. She served six weeks.
Everything that happened to the mother, Alessandra Pacchieri, was decided by the courts in secret.
In the same month we disclosed the case of the ‘irreproachable’ father who spent 12 years and £100,000 in the family courts trying to win the right to see his 14-year-old daughter – and who still has not won his case for access.
Currently, secrecy in the family courts – which can remove children from dangerous parents, order them to be adopted, and decide on their custody – is governed by 1960 law.
This makes it contempt of court to discuss a case when no judgment has been published, a crime punishable by two years in prison. Successive attempts to open up the courts have been thwarted.
In 2006, Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer blocked a law that would have allowed more light in because state-subsidised charities such as the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau opposed the idea.
Labour’s 2005 Mental Capacity Act, pushed through by Lord Falconer, set up the Court of Protection. Its rules say ‘the general rule is that a hearing is to be held in private’.
Sir James Munby, who took over a year ago as President of the Family Division, which includes responsibility for both courts, said his new guidance would take effect from February 3.
He added that further guidance and formal legal practice directions will follow. There may yet be full Parliamentary legislation, although Sir James said this is ‘unlikely in the near future.’
He said that current rules are ‘inappropriate where family members wish to discuss their experiences in public, identifying themselves and making use of the judgement.
‘Equally, they may be inappropriate in cases where findings have been made against a person and the court concludes it is in the public interest for that person to be identified.’ View other’s comments ((HERE))
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HOT on the heels of our intreped reporter Professor Robert A. Kenedy, PhD touring Australia and New Zealand to glean the low down on current Family Justice methods and results, Canadian Premier Stephan Harper is about to embark on the same Journey. Prime Minister Stephen Harper today announced that he will travel to New Zealand and Australia, from November 13 to 16, 2014.
I wonder what he will learn?
Time for a Cyber Protest and also Demo’s in Ottowa (before he departs) Plus Canberra and Wellington!
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