Things have been quiet on this front since evidence was submitted in the spring of 2020. The week before last we became aware that the President and his panel were finally starting the oral evidence sessions, but they were due to start the very next day and they were apparently not going to be accessible to anyone who wanted to watch live. We had assumed that the oral evidence sessions would be accessible in real time and that there would be some advance notice to enable interested parties to ‘attend’ as many had done in January when the Court of Appeal heard four conjoined appeals from the Family Court on the important topic of the handling of domestic abuse allegations.

We wrote to the President’s Office to find out what was happening and to seek further clarification about the arrangements for ensuring the transparency review was, well, transparent.

We received a response which indicated that there would be a public announcement this week. That announcement was published yesterday. It gives some reassurance but leaves some questions unanswered.

What does it tell us?

The announcement tells us several things :

  • The final publication of the Transparency Review is now expected to be in Summer 2021.
  • The panel has been extended to include Mrs Justice Lieven (a senior family division judge). A reminder that the existing panel members were Dr Eia Asen (consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Anthony Douglas CBE (former chief executive of CAFCASS), Clare Dyer (former Legal Editor of The Guardian), and Nicola Shaw CBE (Executive Director of National Grid).
  • The President and panel have now been able to meet remotely to review all submissions and consider who to hear oral evidence from.
  • There will be three oral evidence sessions, conducted remotely and according to witness preference (including reasonable adjustments).
  • The first took place last week, on Tuesday 2 February 2021. The panel heard from:
  • Two of the participants’ presentations have been made available :
    • Professor Kitzinger’s slideshow presentation, can be seen in full online here.
    • HH Clifford Bellamy’s presentation can be found here (foot of the page).
    • We don’t know whether there is any plan to make available the content of the evidence given by Lisa Harker or Dr Coulter.
    • [UPDATE 10 Feb : Dr Coulter has been in touch and provided us with this paper, which was the basis for her presentation to the Transparency Review]
  • The next oral sessions will take place on Monday 8 March and Monday 17 May. Invitations for them will be sent out shortly. These sessions will involve a range of respondents, and the logistics including formal invitations and methodology for each participant group are being finalised. In each case, provisions will be made to make the content of the sessions available either at the time or later if there are sensitivities or preferences defined by the respondent.

Whilst this is encouraging we very much hope that the content of the two sessions that have already taken place are made available soon, and that future evidence will be made accessible in real time. Whilst there might be some need for adjustments to meet the needs of individual participants and some elements of the evidence which could potentially need to be kept private, we think it is very unlikely that this would prevent the vast majority of the oral evidence being made accessible live. We would be unhappy if making the ‘content of the sessions available…later’ means merely the provision of a minute – we think it is important that, save where there is some particular need for confidentiality, the granular detail of the evidence is publicly accessible.

We are really pleased however that this is moving forwards. There is a lot on the plate for those working in Family Justice – both at the coalface and at the top of the tree. Of course we would have wanted this review to have been conducted more quickly (it was announced in May 2019 so it will be approaching 2 ½ years in duration), but there are obvious reasons for the delay – and it is important that the evidence is given the time and attention it needs before conclusions are drawn.

For those who are interested you can read our response to the call for evidence, along with all those from others we have been able to locate, in the post below. We know over 100 responses were submitted (previous updates said 99, but this one says over 100 so perhaps some late ones were received or they did a recount?), so our post links to only a small percentage – if there are others that you know about please do send us a link and we will add them.

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

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