One goal of the Transparency Project is to provide balanced and accurate information about the family courts, so people can make up their own minds on topics that often (rightly) provoke debate, or even protest.
This can feel particularly useful if the press have just covered a family court decision, reaching a lot of people with their story, yet offering only a partial, or even an inaccurate account.
Responses in the comments section after such pieces tend to be dominated by rage at ‘the latest family court injustice’, with a few tentative voices wondering if they’ve really heard the whole story.
If a judgment has been published (at http://www.bailli.org or sometimes http://www.judiciarygov.uk/judgments), it can be useful to set out key facts or judicial findings from it that have been left out of the news story, to allow a more balanced view; or even to link to the full judgment.
Under the Transparency Guidance on Publication of Judgments 2014: Link, judgments are routinely anonymised in relation to the child and other family members (though not the lawyers or experts, including social workers and guardians). This isn’t always adequate (see discussion of ‘jigsaw identification’ here: Link) but it’s a crucial bottom line.
Yet when a major newspaper reports the story of a family court decision, leaving out key relevant facts and findings; and identifies the family members, it creates a dilemma.
Do you leave the controversial family court decision reported in an unbalanced and therefore inaccurate way?
Or publish relevant details from the judgment (even if not actually linking to it) but in so doing, enable the public to potentially link private, perhaps distressing details of parenting deficits and family life, to real, identifiable people; something unintended by the Judge, when directing publication of the anonymised judgment.
Paragraph 21 of the Transparency Guidance makes clear that any failure to ‘strictly preserve the anonymity of the children and members of their family in any published version of the judgement’ will be a contempt of court.
It seems clear to me that the spirit, if not the letter of the Guidance inhibits linking to the Judgment; or even quoting its intimate details in these circumstances.
For the child (and also those adults) who didn’t choose to ‘go public’; but perhaps also for the aggrieved adults who did but who could only be further distressed by being linked as named individuals to the details of the judgement.
A wider cross section of the media being willing to report decisions that matter immensely to families across England and Wales, in a balanced, sensitive and accurate way, might go some way towards addressing this dilemma.