Transparency in the Family Courts: Publicity and Privacy in Practice

Today seems like a good day to give you a little preview of my forthcoming book, written with Julie Doughty and Paul Magrath – the rather lovely Foreword written by Sir Andrew McFarlane, soon to be President of the Family Division (congratulations!). Here is what he has to say. Further details on the book can be found here.


Foreword to Transparency in the Family Courts: Publicity and Privacy in Practice


Just 25 years ago, when the Children Act 1989 was coming into force, I doubt that many, if any, family lawyers would have acknowledged the relevance of the term ‘transparency’ to the work of the family courts. Events have moved swiftly and there can now be no family lawyer or judge who is unaware of the justified impetus towards greater transparency in family cases or of the importance of the need for a clear understanding of just where the line is drawn between what can or cannot be disclosed to those outside the court about what has gone on within it.

Affording due transparency to family proceedings has turned out to be, as Sherlock Holmes might say, ‘a two-pipe problem’ which has, at its core, two entirely conflicting policy drivers: the need for the public to know what goes on in their name in the Family Court and, conversely, the need to protect the privacy of individuals at the centre of any particular case. Whilst it may not have delivered a solution, the title of the 2006 Government consultation paper issued by Lord Falconer, who was then Lord Chancellor, was spot on target – ‘Confidence and Confidentiality’ – in highlighting the conflicting needs of public confidence and private confidentiality.

Over the years, the understanding of what transparency may require has developed. Initially, many of us will have held an unduly simplistic view that the issue was to be resolved in a binary manner by either letting the press and the public in to the Family Court, or keeping them out. Thanks to the ground-breaking and inspired work of The Transparency Project, and now this book, transparency is to be seen as a much more subtle, sophisticated and flexible concept. There is much that can be achieved to ‘open up’ the Family Court in terms of describing and explaining its workings and decisions which falls short of allowing unrestricted access to all and sundry.

The publication of this excellent book is extremely welcome. It is a work written by those who have been on the front-foot on the issue of transparency throughout and who understand the subtleties both of the law and of the policy debate that lies behind it. There is real value in having a detailed and neutral account of the route that has been travelled thus far set out, as here, with clarity and in one place. Above all, this is a practically based text written by practitioners for practitioners, giving a thorough account of the relevant statutory law, case law and procedure. With the publication of this work, there will be no need to look elsewhere for an account of the law relating to transparency in family proceedings and this will rapidly become the ‘go-to’ book on the subject, not just because it is the only one but because of the comprehensive, clear and insightful nature of its coverage.

Inevitably, given the topic, this First Edition of ‘Transparency in the Family Courts’ can only tell the story so far. As the section on ‘Looking Ahead’ records, the book goes to press at a time when thought is being given to what, if any, further steps towards greater transparency may be taken. Given the impossibility of totally squaring the ‘Confidence and Confidentiality’ circle, any development will involve an element of compromise and sacrifice of one or both of these competing principles. Whatever the future may hold, it will, however, be a ‘must’ for all those involved in charting and implementing its course to have read and understood the contents of this important book.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane
Lord Justice of Appeal
Maundy Thursday 2018


5 thoughts on “Transparency in the Family Courts: Publicity and Privacy in Practice

  1. McFarlane mentions “, two entirely conflicting policy drivers: the need for the public to know what goes on in their name in the Family Court and, conversely, the need to protect the privacy of individuals at the centre of any particular case”

    He does NOT mention the far more important need for the ability of those who feel they have been unjustly treated by the Family Courts to protest publicly stating their cases and then identifying themselves and their children in the media and on the internet.
    Any parents who feel their babies or children have been wrongly taken are sent to prison if they dare to protest in that way .
    In a fee society they should be able to scream their names from the rooftops without the fear of crushing reprisals from the State.

  2. No, Ian. If you love your children you won’t want them and the litigation around them identified in the press and on the internet.

    • NO,no Andrew ! Go tell that to Dr Katie McCann and order her to shun publicity to protect her daughter’s privacy !
      The worst thing that can happen to a mother is for her baby to be snatched away at birth.Such mothers want their babies returned and they don’t give a damn about publicity ;They will cry from the rooftops if it helps them retrieve their babies.So far I have not heard of any babies outraged that their rights to privacy have been breached !!
      I am still amazed at the UK judges who misuse Article 8 ECHR giving us all the right to a private family life free from interference from the State.This was clearly drafted to protect families from the state but has been used in family courts to protect the State from parents publicly protesting when their children are snatched for future risk on the grounds that the children need privacy !
      Surely you must agree as a matter of common sense that a distraught parent whose child had been snatched by the State would value publicity in the media that might stir up public outrage over any privacy for a baby ??
      Lastly, surely you must also agree that one of the most important characteristics of a democracy is freedom to protest against an injustice .Suppression of free speech belongs to dictatorships and should never occur in “democratic UK”

    • Or more simply Andrew ,”If you love your kidnapped children you above all want them BACK!!”

  3. What concerns me most is that, throughout the entire Child Protection procedure, professionals feel safe in the knowledge that secrecy is paramount. It affords them a considerable degree of protection should they make misinformed judgements based on falsified documents. This is extremely common, not just because of work/time pressure of social workers, along with targets, but, very sadly, because of pure malice and even a craving for power.
    I first became aware of the atrocious injustices in Child Protection when, because of my experience with law, courts, education and special needs, I was asked the be an advocate. What I saw was a shocking revelation. Social workers blatantly lying, ignoring evidence, playing psychological ‘games’ to break the mother and, unbelievably, behaving like rabble at the conference clearly intent to destroy the mother (because she would not stop requesting an assessment for her special needs child after they failed in their legal duty to make diagnostic provision). I was unable to help the mother as the authorities refused to provide documents following SARs. The family moved to Ireland and was totally cleared, indeed, complimented, by Irish social services.
    I have since learned of so many similar cases, most of whom have lost their children. And it is my firm belief that the reason some social workers can behave as they do is because they are protected by secrecy.
    Secrecy protects social workers, secrecy destroys families and secrecy harms children.

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