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Openness of Family Courts - Family Courts Information Pilot

Volume 498: debated on Monday 2 November 2009

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor announced on 16 December 2008 a package of measures to improve the openness of family courts, and on 27 April 2009 he made a written statement to the House about the implementation of new court rules concerning media attendance at proceedings and disclosure provisions, Official Report, column 38WS.

I am now able to confirm that the next phase of the programme has been implemented today—the family courts information pilot. This pilot will test the provision of written judgments in more cases than now, and place anonymised judgments and written reasons in the public domain via the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) website. The pilot will run from today in the magistrates courts in Leeds and in the magistrates court and county court in Cardiff, and it will run from the beginning of January at the magistrates court and county court in Wolverhampton.

The provision of the judgments and written reasons is being piloted in order that we can assess the benefits to parties to proceedings and the wider public, as well as the resource impacts on court service staff and the judiciary. The pilot is expected to run for 12 months, and evidence from the pilot will be evaluated to inform a decision on whether the arrangements should be implemented nationally.

The following types of cases fall within the scope of the pilot:

Cases where an interim care/supervision order or a final order has been made at a hearing in either:

a) the family proceedings court (magistrates or DJ (MCs));

b) county courts (circuit or district judges or recorders); or

c) the High Court

Cases that fall under at least one of the following categories:

a) Either parent is given leave permanently to remove a child from the UK.

b) The final order prohibits direct contact between a child and either or both parents.

c) A final order is made in a Children Act public law case, including where contact continues.

d) The final order has depended on contested issues of religion, culture or ethnicity.

e) The court has had to decide between medical or other expert witnesses where there were significant differences of opinion.

f) The court has had to decide significant human rights issues.

g) The interim care/supervision order was contested.

There will be other types of case in which publication of the judgment will be encouraged. The type of cases include:

a) Contested cases where the facts, outcomes or solutions of the case would, in the discretion of the judge, be worthy of reporting publicly. So, for example, contested residence or disputed contact issues where the outcome is unusual (e.g. father has residence etc.).

b) Contested adoption applications, applications to make and revoke placement orders; cases involving dispensation with consent and contact.

c) Emergency protection orders.