Decisions by secret courts that can lead to children being taken from their parents are finally to be opened up to public scrutiny for the first time in half a century, reports The Daily Mail.
President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby – the most senior family judge in the land – laid down new legislation that, barring ‘compelling reasons’ not to do so, judgments in the family courts must always be publicised.
This watershed ruling brings an end to a half-century of silence that has cloaked the family courts.
A victory for those fighting for justice, the new laws mean that councils applying to take children into care can no longer hide behind a masque of anonymity. Expert witnesses, including social workers, should be named in public, as should anyone found responsible for wrongdoing.
Only children and adults caught up in disputes and members of their families should be protected by anonymity.
Until the new guidance went into effect this month, family courts – holding the power to remove children from parents they adjudicate to be a threat to the child’s welfare, to order adoptions and to decide on child custody – operated under a cloak of secrecy established by 1960s laws.
These laws made discussion of the case before judgement had been pronounced contempt of court, punishable by a two-year prison sentence.
Lord Munby said that the rules were “inappropriate where family members wish to discuss their experiences in public, identifying themselves and making use of the judgement.”
The scandal of such ‘secret’ courts came under the spotlights at the close of last year when an Italian mother who was only visiting our country was ordered to undergo a forced caesarean and to give up her new-born child for adoption. Everything that happened to her was decided by the courts in secret.
In a guidance sent to judges, Lord Munby said 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.”