Family court secrecy lets judges get away with mistakes, senior judge says

Family court secrecy lets judges get away with mistakes, senior judge says

"We’ve got to be much more honest about this, and if we are honest about it, things go wrong."  
“We’ve got to be much more honest about this, and if we are honest about it, things go wrong,” said Sir James.   CREDIT: BRIAN SMITH 
Secrecy in family courts could be allowing judges to get away with mistakes, the most senior family judge in England and Wales has said.
Speaking at an event on Tuesday evening, Sir James Munby, president of the high court’s family division, said that judges were “grotesquely overworked” and “tired” and so more likely to make errors.
He said more openness would allow journalists and the public to scrutinise their decisions.
Judges should not be “immune from criticism” and that journalists should be able to argue that “the whole thing is flawed, the premises are all wrong, the facts are all wrong” if they think the judge has erred, he added

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“The simple fact is that at present journalists can’t do that without access to the evidence and without reporting what went on in court and saying well, this judge seems to be listening to a different witness than I, and the impression I got from listening to this witness was X,Y,Z and the judge says A,B,C. So I think there are very real problems there,” he said.
“We’ve got to be much more honest about this, and if we are honest about it, things go wrong.”
Most family court hearings are heard in private but accredited journalists are allowed in unless specifically excluded.
However, there are restrictions on what can be reported and whether they have access to documents.
Sir James added that he often felt that families did not understand what had happened during court proceedings.
“I have a terrible feeling that if you actually stopped some of the parents in these care cases as they were going out of court at the end and you asked them what was going on, what’s been happening, what’s the answer, they’d be unable to explain.
“And that is an indictment of our system, not of them,” he said.
Sir James made the comments at a lecture about social media and the family courts, organised by the Family Justice Council and given by journalist Louise Tickle in memory of Bridget Lindley, an influential family lawyer and expert who died in 2016. 
The new Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, who was appointed last year, has also said that one of his priorities is to improve transparency of the courts to help people understand them better.

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