Our chair Lucy Reed recently interviewed Philip Marshall QC, Chair of the Family Law Bar Association, for Counsel Magazine. She managed to squeeze in a question about transparency, and here is the relevant extract :

Although he hasn’t mentioned it as a hot topic, I ask about transparency. It is, he observes, primarily driven by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, who is ‘a great fan of transparency – as far as it can reasonably go’.

‘I don’t believe we should simply do these things because there is a clamour amongst certain sections of the press, based on what I think is possibly a false premise, that the family courts are secret. They are not, as we know – the press has absolute right to go in. And one of the most remarkable things about the change of rules [in 2009] which allows this is the infrequency with which one encounters the press other than in celebrity divorce cases, which then get splashed across the newspapers.’

He is troubled by suggestions that press should have access to trial bundles and fears there would be an interest in material that has nothing to do with the case or law – ‘there would be more interest in credit card statements than novel points of law’.

This is a view of transparency from the perspective of a so-called ‘big money’ Silk – so I ask him about the widely noted difference of opinion on the question of privacy in financial remedy proceedings between certain members of the High Court Bench.

‘It’s entirely unsatisfactory for litigants – it largely depends to whom one is allocated by the gatekeeper judge. It’s a litigation risk but it’s not a balanced risk because at the moment the issue tends to be confined to one judge [Mr Justice Holman almost always sits in public], but obviously there are cases where there is a legitimate public interest in the case being heard in open court.’

He gives the example of Cooper-Hohn v Hohn (various 2014), and says his own experience is that those cases which attract press interest tend to become ‘a bit of a free for all’. He’s at pains to emphasise he is not talking about specific celebrity cases in which he has been involved, but says: ‘As a general point – there is an over-temptation that the parties can fuel interest by putting certain information in the public domain that they perceived is in their interests.’

You can read the full article here : Family Keystone.