This blog post originally appeared as our monthly column in the September 2019 issue of Family Law at [2019] Fam Law 1074(1).

New writers join the project team

In this month’s column, we feature some contributions by writers who have recently become involved in the Project.

Project members include three trustees (who hold responsibilities for the charity) and a wider group of lawyers and other writers. We have, for the past year, with the generous assistance of funding by The Legal Education Foundation (‘LEF) employed two part-time coordinators. You can read all about who we are on the ‘Who’ page on our website. Most of our blog posts over the years have been written by Project members, with the occasional guest post. Since October 2016 we have been running our Family Court Reporting Watch project (also funded by LEF) and thus some posts are written under the collective name of Reporting Watch Team. This included our regular Round-up of new cases, media stories and transparency heroes and villains. Unfortunately, because we are having to now focus on fundraising to continue our work, Round-up is suspended (temporarily, we hope). Overall, almost all our writing is by volunteers.

We welcome guest posts partly because of time pressures on ourselves and partly because we are well aware that many family court topics can better be covered by others, who specialise or can bring a fresh voice. We have been trying to build up a pool of legal bloggers, who can go to court under the legal blogging pilot (FPR Practice Direction 36J) as well as writers who might step in and write for us on hot topics more regularly than our occasional guests. We also welcome posts by individuals who have been involved in court proceedings personally, provided there is a wider message and nothing that might contravene our editorial guidelines or privacy restrictions.

Over recent months we have published blog posts by new contributors Emily Ward, Malvika Jaganmohan, Jo Edwards, Kelly Reeve, Sophie Smith-Holland and Abigail Bond. We have also published guest posts by Charlotte Proudman, Bob Greig, Charlotte John, ‘Themis’, Alex Chandler and Valerie Eliot Smith. We are taking this opportunity to thank them all, and to encourage Family Law readers to take a look at their posts, which we describe below.

Consultation on the use of expert witnesses

Malvika Jaganmohan, pupil barrister with Coram Chambers, flagged a recent family court judgment, West Sussex County Council v B [2019] EWFC B25, that illustrates the impact on families of shortages of medical and other experts needed for complex cases. She reported on a meeting looking at barriers and solutions (‘The President’s Expert Witness Working Group Symposium: in which lawyers (for once) were not the loudest voices in the room’, 6 July 2019). In circumstances where important meetings are held for stakeholders on topics like this, but few people can actually get there, it is invaluable to have someone like Malvika take the trouble to write up the implications for wider professional and, indeed, public information.

Figures and fact-checking

Jo Edwards, who will be familiar to most readers through her work with Resolution and her indefatigable campaigning for divorce law reform, corrected inaccurate media coverage of the imminent Bill as ‘divorce made easy’ (‘Finding fault in the reporting of no-fault divorce’, 13 April 2019). Kelly Reeve, a researcher at the University of East Anglia, analysed the claim by Cafcass, taken up by the President, that it was not 10% but nearly 40% of separating couples who go to court to resolve child arrangements (‘Custody fights blight 4 in 10 breakups  a word of caution’, 2 July 2019).

Domestic abuse and family courts

Sophie Smith Holland, a barrister at St John’s Chambers, Bristol, has written a series of detailed analyses of new court decisions on the impact of domestic abuse on children (‘How do family courts treat domestic abuse’, 7 June; 11 July).

The topic became something of a hot potato after the Victoria Derbyshire programmes in the week of 15 May, in which barrister Charlotte Proudman and our Chair Lucy Reed appeared (amongst many others) to discuss family courts’ attitude when mothers were expressing concerns about the safety of their children in contact arrangements. Charlotte subsequently wrote for us in strong terms about her experience of family courts minimising domestic abuse. This post led to a good deal of discussion on social media, much of it supportive but some taking issue with The Transparency Project publishing an opinion piece, to which our Chair responded (‘We don’t set out to please all of the people, all of the time’, 6 July 2019). Lucy had also written along similar lines following the Derbyshire show in The Times on 20 May 2019, ‘We must shed light on family court crisis: Protecting children’s privacy should always be paramount but we cannot rely on media reports and anecdotal evidence if we are to reform the system’.

An outcome of the Victoria Derbyshire show was the announcement by the Ministry of Justice of a 3-month ‘spotlight review’ on safety of children in private law cases. The short time-span and make-up of the review panel has attracted considerable criticism. Bob Greig, of Only Dads, wrote in favour of supporting the review, identifying priority areas for research on interim orders, coercive control, and supporting witnesses (‘A view from the cheap seats’, 7 July 2019). Only Dads has recently published a book (co-edited with Only Mums): 101 Questions Answers about Separating with Children (Bath Publishing, 2019), which was reviewed for us by Emily Ward, of Broadway House Chambers on 8 April 2019.

Property matters

Abigail Bond, of St John’s Chambers, explained Re PBM [2019] EWCOP 6, which had been misreported in the media as a primarily dispute over whether a man with learning disabilities could marry, whereas this point had already been agreed. The issues for decision by the judge, Mr Justice Francis, were about his financial position. (‘Judge agrees learning disabled man can make his own choice about marriage and should be told about his finances’, 24 May 2019)

Proprietary estoppel was at the centre of Charlotte John’s post on the case of Habberfield v Habberfield [2018] EWHC 317 (Ch), affirmed [2019] EWCA Civ 890). (‘The Habberfields and the have-not-a-fields’, 29 June 2019). This case, about a very valuable farm, had created several dramatic headlines about a ‘fight in the cowshed’.

The potential benefits of arbitration for singer Adele, whose separation from her husband was widely publicised in the media, with speculation about the financial settlement, were explained by Alex Chandler, 1 Kings Bench Walk (‘Adele: Privacy, litigation and arbitration’, 9 May 2019)

Parents’ and children’s voices

Themis (the goddess of justice in Greek mythology) is a pseudonym for a parent who has been involved in court proceedings and who occasionally comments on some of our posts. She has written a longer piece for us about the difficulties that stop wronged parents and their children from speaking up about family justice, even though she also has professional experience of the system (‘It ain’t that easy . . .’, 15 June 2019), illustrating how hard and frightening it can be for parents to understand and apply complex legal rules on talking or writing about their cases.

In contrast, in a medical negligence case, Justyna Zeromska-Smith v United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust [2019] EWHC 552 (QB), privacy was denied to the applicant and her family. Valerie Eliot Smith, Queen Mary University London, wrote about this for us (‘The troubling case of Justyna’, 7 May 2019).


We hope these posts have been worth you dipping into, and that you might think about writing for us as a guest or more regular contributor. Additionally, the legal blogging pilot, under FPR Practice Direction 36J, has been extended for a further year until 30 June 2020, so if you are interested in legal blogging or writing generally you can reach us via twitter @seethrujustice or via email to Constructive comments (all comments are moderated) on any of our posts are also always welcome.

The Transparency Project Team