It has been a long time since the President of the Family Division first published his “Next Steps” Transparency Consultation (August 2014) and an even longer time since he took his first steps in that direction, with the publication at the outset of 2014 of the Transparency Guidelines, following a consultation upon them. Those guidelines of course deal mainly with the publication of judgments, whilst the autumn consultation contemplated going much wider with transparency.
The deadline for submissions passed with Hallowe’en, and it was widely anticipated that something would be heard in the new year. But it hasn’t been.
Oddly, in the Court of Protection, where there has been no “Next Steps” consultation, a new set of rules has appeared which have significant ramifications in terms of transparency. It isn’t immediately clear why there is a difference of approach in the two jurisdictions, particularly since the President of the Family Division is also President of the Court of Protection, and since he issued almost identical guidance on the publication of judgments.
Today we have also seen publication of a new pro-transparency cross-jurisdictional Practice Guidance on Committal Hearings (essentially a reinforcement and clarification of the previous direction of travel, with some detailed provisions to make it easier in practice for the press to find out about and report such hearings). But still nothing on the proposals in the consultation.
The delay suggests a rethink may be afoot. But it may just be that the President has had many other things on his judicial plate (such as the Children & Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group report and sitting as a first instance and appellate judge on a number of cases).
However, the spirit of transparency perhaps demands that someone should let us know what is going on, even if that is not much at the moment. After all, we all laboured long and hard to help the President work out what his next steps should be by responding to his consultation, and we are all interested to know what he has made of our ponderings.