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High Court judgment on transparency in the family court

Court judgment

04 August 2020
High Court judgment on transparency in the family court

The issue of transparency in respect of family court judgments is a challenging one that engages different factors, one of which is the public interest in outcomes. The welfare of any children involved in family cases must always be the primary concern, but where a court must consider how to minimise the potential of harm to a child it can be particularly difficult. In a recent judgment, Mr Justice Hayden had to make such a consideration.

The case involved negative findings against a local authority during care proceedings. It was initially decided that the need to protect the child involved in the proceedings needed to be prioritised over the public interest of naming the local authority, as there was a concern that by naming the local authority, the child may be identifiable. The press were not able to observe the hearing, which was carried out remotely, but they were notified about the outcome. An application was then put to the court asking for permission to publish the findings naming the local authority.

In his final judgment, Mr Justice Hayden agreed with the submission that 'the rights of the child are not to be regarded as 'paramount'' but should be 'regarded as the 'primary' consideration'. The risk of jigsaw identification was considered, but it was decided that the risk of the child being identified purely due to the local authority being named was low, if all the necessary steps were taken to otherwise anonymise the case.

In considering the public interest, the court focused on the fact that the negative findings did not relate to 'an isolated example of strikingly poor practice' but actually reflected wider, systemic failings on behalf of the local authority. The judgment stated there was therefore a public interest in highlighting these failings, so the media were permitted to publish the initial judgment naming the local authority, with certain directions as to maintaining anonymity of the child involved.

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