The much-anticipated Transparency Review: Am I missing something?
|Image: Public Domain, via Piqsels|
As I'm sure the reader will know by now, the President's much-anticipated Transparency Review has been published today, to a general consensus that it represents a new dawn for the family justice system, heralding a journey to those sunlit uplands in which never a bad word is uttered about its no longer mysterious practices.
Sadly, I was not one of the elite who received an advance copy (albeit embargoed until midnight last night), but I have had a read, in particular of the President's 'Detailed proposals for change'. I have to say that I am somewhat underwhelmed. I presume that I have missed something...
Let us have a look at some of those proposals:
1. Reporting of proceedings
The President says that he intends "to bring forward rules that will allow journalists and legal bloggers to attend Family Court proceedings and report on what happened". This entails reversing the presumption in AJA 1960, s 12 preventing publication of information relating to proceedings if they concern children.
OK, but isn't that a matter for parliament? Well, the President thinks that he can get around that small issue by putting in place rules which mitigate the effect of s 12. However, he does admit that "any proposed rule changes or practice directions will be subject to the important requirement of government ministerial approval." Hmm...
And just how many legal bloggers (by which I mean bloggers who are already attending and reporting upon family court proceedings) are there? I am aware of just two. And surely those that do it can't afford to give up great swathes of their time sitting in court, for no reward? No disrespect, but the sum effect of a tiny number of legal bloggers reporting on family cases is going to be minimal (apart from the fact that their audiences are nothing like the size of newspapers, and largely comprise lawyers anyway).
The President also admits that there remains the problem of journalists "distorting or misunderstanding the court process in order to produce a ‘good story’ which is neither accurate nor justified by what took place in court". Well, yes - this is the problem with trying to encourage more reporting - readers are only interested in a 'good story'. If accurate reports don't attract readers, then journalists will soon give up on the family court unless, of course, they know in advance that the case will include something salacious.
The President proposes dealing with the matter of misreporting by taking it up with the relevant editors. Good luck with that. If the editor does accept that a case has been misreported then we all know that the best that can be expected is a one-paragraph correction, hidden at the foot of page 9.
So what more will journalists and bloggers be able to report? I'm not entirely sure. And in any event, the President confirms that judges will still have a discretion to exclude non-parties from hearings.
2. Publication of judgments
Moving on, the other big headline is that the President "will ask all judges to publish anonymised versions of at least 10% of their judgments each year."