Lord Justice Munby has, in the last week, issued draft
guidance for the publishing of judgements in the Family Court concerning
arrangements for children.
Whilst only a small minority of cases
concerning the arrangements for children whose parents have separated ever make
it to court, and only a small number of those cases require a judge to make the
final decision, it could affect hundreds of cases each year.
The effect of this new decision will not put details of
every divorce case on the internet. What
it will do, however, is create a presumption that, when the living arrangements
of children are decided by a judge after, what is very often, many months of
argument, details of that decision will probably be made available on the
internet. The identities of the children
and their parents will be kept secret, but the identities of the judge, the
lawyers involved and any expert witnesses, are likely to be published.
Some will say that the effect of all this will be very
little; we have not after all seen a rush of journalists to the Family Court
looking for stories on a daily basis since the rules of media access were relaxed a few years ago. It
could, though, lead to such a volume of material being made available as to be too much
for any one person to sift through and gain any meaningful knowledge from.
The point is, I think, that we live in a world with more
information at our fingertips than we ever have known before and that is what our society expects. The message from Lord Justice Munby is that,
unless there is a good reason why not, these decisions should be made public in
a way that protects privacy but makes them available for those that want to
find them. If it aids understanding of matrimonial law, it might just be a good thing.
For those that do not want their case details published, one solution is obvious - negotiate!