By Legal Futures’ Associates Bath Publishing 
Comments made during launch webinar for a new book The Secret Family Court: Fact or Fiction?
The swift move to remote hearings in the family courts brough about by the Covid-19 lockdown could be used as a spur to improve family court transparency. That is the view of Sir James Munby immediate past President of the Family Division.
His comments were made during a launch webinar held to mark a new book examining the problems of reporting on family proceedings – The Secret Family Court: Fact or Fiction? Commenting towards the end of the event on the use of technology, he made the point that at present the public gallery can only be accessed by a handful of people yet if the proceedings are available on the web then anyone with an interest could watch the courts in action. In the ‘the long run that would be a tremendous improvement’ for transparency and trust. Properly handled ‘a hearing by Skype’ in the family courts should be ‘an opportunity to improve matters’.
In response the author HH Clifford Bellamy did warn that, in the current rush to online hearings, there is a danger that ‘transparency goes to the bottom of the list’. That was acknowledged by Sir James as a real danger but hoped the author was being unduly pessimistic. Lucy Reed, barrister and chair of The Transparency Project, pointed out that recent guidance from Mr Justice McDonald, the Family Division judge, on conducting remote hearings highlighted that the involvement of the press still needs work.
Sir James also took the chance to again call for the reform of s12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 which prevents parents from talking to the media about their experiences.
Responding to a question from journalist Louise Tickle, Sir James said that the lack of transparency is ‘very detrimental to the standing of the family justice system’ but that reform can be done with prejudicing the rights of children and parents. The reform is needed because the law as present ‘stifles the debate.. stopping in their tracks’ the parents and journalists wishing to recount their stories.
The hour-long, panel discussion – which also features contributions from Lucy Reed, barrister and Pink Tape blogger and Dr Julie Doughty from the University of Cardiff – is available to watch in full on the Bath Publishing website https://bathpublishing.com/blogs/what-were-up-to/the-secret-family-court-fact-or-fiction-watch-the-launch-webinar .
The book – The ‘Secret’ Family Court: Fact or Fiction? by HH Clifford Bellamy – is also available now in either print or digital editions for only £20. https://bathpublishing.com/collections/family/products/the-secret-family-court-fact-or-fiction