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Judge Calls for Record Disclosure
March 19, 2014 permalink
British judge James Munby has called for court records of child protection to be made available to the children when they reach adulthood.
The judge has recognized a small part of the problem. The agency records on a foster child are kept confidential even after adulthood. John Dunn fought unsuccessfully to get copies of his own foster records in Ontario. Because the lives of foster or adoptive children are often irregular, it is sometimes impossible for them to prove they are the child involved in some official record. Your editor, for example, has never been able to get a copy of his birth certificate through official sources. Only making foster and adoption records public, allowing anyone to search them, will enable the adult subjects of care proceedings to find their own records.
Children separated from their families by courts must know why
Britain's most senior family judge says children who are separated from their families must be able to access a record of the court's secret ruling when they grow up
Children separated from their parents in secret family court judgments must be able to find out the reasons for the court's decisions when they grow up, the most senior family judge has said.
Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, said it was “great concern” that the judgments of all family court judges were not routinely transcribed and published.
This is a “major issue” for the children affected by judgments, he said, who are then unable to find out at a later date why a judge came to a decision that may have affected the course of the rest of their life.
He said that there was a “pressing need” for a “definitive record” for concerned parties to refer to if future contentions over the judgment occur.
Sir James added: “More importantly, in future years: five years, ten years, twenty years, thirty years or fifty years into the future, a child who may, for example, be subject of adoption proceedings, is able to see what the judge actually said.”
“My focus immediately is on transparency, disclosure into the public arena but there is an equally important need for the judgements to be made available for the families. That of course has cost implications.”
The change is the next move in a push by Sir James for “greater transparency” in the family court system.
In January the senior judge issued guidance to the family courts and the Court of Protection that more decisions by judges should be published in an effort to bring about "an immediate and significant change in practice in relation to the publication of judgments".
The guidance means that judges now have to provide "compelling reasons" to prevent judgments being released, with local authorities and expert witnesses involved in care cases being generally named — although the anonymity of children and vulnerable adults will be protected.
Hundreds of decisions on parental access to children and care orders were also published in a move to end the secrecy of family courts.
The move came following sustained criticism from fathers' groups and MPs that the family courts lack transparency, with 95,000 hearings in private every year. In recent years several secret care cases have been exposed by the Court of Appeal after "disgraceful" decisions by local authorities.
Speaking at the Justice select committee Sir James said that the January guidance was “merely a start” and that he planned to issue further missives following consultation.
He plans to tell courts to increase the categories of court documents available to journalists, extend the number of judgements that will be published on an mandatory basis and apply the new transparency rules to circuit judges as well as those in the High Court, he said.
Sir James said January’s guidance was already having a “visible affect” on secrecy within the family court system with many more judgments now available to the public.
Source: Telegraph (UK)