People are being left with a “patchy understanding” of the family justice system in England and Wales because judges do not consistently follow guidance on the publication of case rulings, a report suggests
Family court judges have told researchers they do not have enough time to produce rulings that can be made available to the public.
Academics at Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics gathered data three years after judicial heads issued guidance to family court judges following “secrecy” complaints.
Researchers Julie Doughty, Alice Twaite and Paul Magrath analysed more than 800 rulings published in the two years after guidance was issued.
Their report says “only 27 judges and 12 courts” sent more than 10 cases to the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (Bailii) website for publication during that period.
Researchers said “significant local variations” were revealed.
“The judgments now published provide more information about the role of the family courts than was available prior to the guidance, but there are inconsistencies in the way courts have responded which can present a confusing and not necessarily representative picture of the system as a whole,” said Dr Doughty, who led the research team.
“The overwhelming message we received in this study was that judges’ workloads, and lack of administrative support, did not allow them the time they needed to write clear, useful and safely anonymised judgments for publication that they could feel confident had minimised any risk of identifying the children and families involved.”
A spokeswoman for the research team said: “(The research) suggests that guidance given to judges to routinely publish their judgments is not being consistently followed, leaving the public with a patchy understanding of the family justice system.”