Shared Parenting Scotland has called for the publication of more anonymised family law cases from the Scottish courts.
The move follows a commitment from the President of the Family Division in England & Wales, Sir Andrew McFarlane, to a “major shift in culture and process” to increase public knowledge of what happens in family courts. This would be achieved by facilitating accredited journalist reporting of court proceedings and increasing the number of published judgments from family courts.
Family courts in England & Wales have been criticised for secrecy, which has the aim of protecting parties from disclosure of highly personal matters but also leads to accusations of justice behind closed doors, and sometimes decisions that detract from public confidence in the system.
Sir Andrew said his objective was to focus on “the dual goals of enhancing public confidence in the family justice system, whilst at the same time maintaining the anonymity of those families and children who turn to it for protection”.
Shared Parenting Scotland, which seeks to reduce conflict in separating families, said that drawing on the experiences of close to 1,000 enquiries over the last year, it shared the concern expressed in England & Wales that there was a knowledge gap on family court proceedings that disadvantaged parties and tended to undermine public confidence when justice was not seen to be done.
Ian Maxwell, national manager, commented: “It is our perception that comparatively few judgments are published in private law cases in Scotland. This has been a concern of ours for some years. We believe publication of anonymised judgments would underpin improved general public understanding of what is happening in courts.”
He added: “We entirely accept that family courts have to protect the privacy of proceedings. Unfortunately ‘privacy’ is easily translated as ‘secrecy’ by critics of the current lack of information in the public domain. We suggest publication of judgments will help parents who cannot agree arrangements for parenting their children understand what may lie ahead for them if they ask courts to take over such important decisions for them and their children.
“That may help at least some – and their legal advisers – to put their own disagreement in perspective and choose an alternative method of dispute resolution. We are passionate advocates that parents should be given support at the time of separation when they are in most pain and distress and often bewilderment to find a way of putting the overall interests of their children first and to look beyond the immediate heat of their conflict.”