McFarlane calls for increased transparency in family justice system

Following a transparency review in family proceedings conducted last October, president of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has told MPs that greater transparency is needed to instil public confidence.

Addressing MPs McFarlane said that although greater transparency is needed, it will be “difficult” saying that striking the balance between allowing openness and maintaining anonymity of individuals would be “tricky”.

In October’s transparency review , McFarlane called for “a major shift in culture” in order to increase transparency and public confidence in the family justice system.

The family courts are a “major part of the justice system” said McFarlane, and there is a “legitimate interest … in the public having a much better understanding and more accurate understanding of what we do”, he added.

It is not tenable to say, ‘well, solely to protect the identity of the individuals involved, everything has got to be kept out of the public gaze and cannot be reported’. There must be a way of allowing openness so that people can see what we do, understand what we do, how we do it, why we make the decisions and yet maintain the anonymity of the individuals involved, but that is the tricky bit: to achieve that confidentiality whilst being open,” McFarlane added.

McFarlane also called for reform of section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960, which he says has impacted “confidence in the administration of family justice to a marked degree” due to it preventing contemporaneous case reporting without the judge’s approval.

Acknowledging the difficulties faced in achieving transparency within the division McFarlane commented:

 “I am in the easy seat at the moment, having got to the big ideas – how we do it is really tricky and that is why I have got this transparency implementation group up and running, but I don’t pretend it is easy at all.”

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