This blog post originally appeared as the Transparency Project’s monthly column for October 2019 in Family Law [2019] Fam Law 1208(1).

Cape v Dring

In July 2019, the Supreme Court handed down judgment in the case of Cape Intermediate Holdings Ltd v Dring (Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK) [2019] UKSC 38, not a case citation that suggests much relevance to family lawyers. But, in fact, although the claim that the appeal derived from was indeed a civil dispute about asbestos, the appeal itself gives some important guidance as to the practical implementation of the open justice principle across all courts, including those exercising a family jurisdiction, when non-parties (including journalists) seek access to documents from the case. The contents of that judgment are of interest to those with an eye on the legal blogging pilot, and will no doubt be in mind when the President considers how he should resolve (or at least advance) the privacy: transparency conundrum in the course of his Transparency Review. The last time a President of the Family Division attempted to take steps on transparency (Sir James Munby’s Next Steps Consultation in 2014) the topic of access to documents such as case summaries, skeletons or expert reports, was one issue which prompted polarised responses from those submitting consultation responses. Whatever the right approach to that issue may be, the question of access to documents by journalists (or bloggers) wishing to better understand what it is that they are seeing unfold (either to better report or to better understand what they can reasonably expect to be permitted to report), is an issue we hope that the President grapples with. It is a topic we touched upon in our response to the President’s consultations on his draft guidance concerning applications to relax reporting restrictions. That consultation closed on 30 June  it is not clear whether we will hear anything further on it before the wider ‘transparency review’ reports in the spring.

You can read our analysis of the Cape v Dring judgment insofar as it holds relevance for family courts on The Transparency Project blog (Supreme Court’s decision in asbestos case: guidance bearing on transparency in family courts, 4 August 2019).

You can also read our consultation response and those we’ve collected or located from other organisations (Transparency Reform: as one door closes . . ., 30 June 2019).

Now that the legal bloggers pilot has been extended until next summer we have produced a plain English information leaflet that those who wish to attend court as legal bloggers under PD36J may take with them to explain the scheme to lawyers, litigants and even judges. That is available for download and printing at our legal bloggers hub.

We do encourage more of you to attend a hearing wearing this particular hat. It is important that the scheme is tested out for better or for worse  from practical experience we hope wrinkles and pitfalls will be ironed out and a more streamlined way of working will emerge. Please contact us if you are thinking about attending but are a bit nervous or unsure.

TP at Byline Festival

By the time you read this, members of our team will have spent the bank holiday weekend talking about transparency in the family courts at Byline Festival  through a panel discussion ‘Truth, Trust and Transparency in the Justice System’, and by running workshops for journalists about reporting family courts. Byline Festival takes place annually in Sussex and aims to promote independent journalism and free speech. Other speakers/acts this year include Carole Cadwalladr, Lemn Sissay, Gina Miller, and Pussy Riot.

We are hoping to re-run our workshops for lawyers who may wish to try their hand at legal blogging or who would like to be better prepared for the attendance of a legal blogger or journalist at one of the hearings where they are an advocate. If you would like to host a workshop in your area please get in touch.

TP events

We’re also planning a number of future events. Our public panel discussions have been well received in the past and we hope to set up another in the new year  do let us know if you have ideas for particular topics we might tackle. Topics so far include Allegations of Domestic Abuse: Are Family Courts Working For Families and Children?, The Family Court Debate  Should privacy trump accountability?, and Reporting the Family Courts  Are we doing it justice?). We are also working on plans to facilitate an event or series of events involving key stakeholders from across the spectrum, which we hope will generate some productive ideas that might assist the President with his review.

Lucy Reed

Chair, The Transparency Project

Feature pic : seeing eye by Valerie Everett on Flickr (creative commons – thanks!)