UK Family Law Reform

Free information index



The Common Law of England requires trials of actions to be conducted in Open Court. But under arcane statutory powers deriving from an Act of 1852, Rule Committees have made rules of court which make secret justice the norm in Family law. That was a decision of a privileged cabal of judges and lawyers and not debated or voted upon by Parliament.

Secret courts corrupt and weaken the judicial and democratic process.

Secret Justice undermines Justice: abuses go unmonitored and unchecked. Justice must be seen to be done.

Judicial prejudice, bias, arbitrariness, and idiosyncrasy wither under the public eye but flourish in secret

Without public scrutiny of the philosophical premisses upon which evidence is presented, alleged experts -with their own agenda- can have damaging influence upon Judges and society at large.

Proper procedure can be flouted in secret hearings.

Judges can more readily mis-state the Law in secret.

Improper and even corrupt behaviour by members of the legal profession can be covered up in secret hearings.

Secrecy encourages administrative inefficiency, lax and sloppy advocacy, and poor conduct of cases by the legal profession and judiciary.

Without open justice, law reporters and the general press and public cannot report or sensibly comment upon cases.

Without open justice, Litigants in Person cannot come to court in advance to see how cases are conducted and the Law applied, or how the Judge for their own case conducts matters and what types of argument he approves or disapproves.

Without open justice, Litigants in Person can be and are prevented from having an assistant in court, although their opponent may be represented by solicitor and counsel.

In the secrecy of chambers the professionals, Bar and Bench, can collude to take advantage of a Litigant in Person and defeat his/her case.

Secret Justice breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 6(1) requires all Judgements, without any exception, to be pronounced publicly.

Article 10(1) guarantees the right to freedom of expression, including the right to receive and impart information without interference by public authority. This must include the right of public access to the courts.

OPEN JUSTICE : Quotations...

The need for Open Justice received support from the English Judiciary in May 1987 , when Mrs. Justice Booth complained about the rules of court which excluded the press and public, on the grounds that this was leading to "lax and sloppy advocacy and poor conduct of cases".
Lord Denning , a few years earlier, had publicly stated that:

"Every court should be open to every subject of the Queen. I think it is one of the essentials of justice being done in the community. Every judge, in a sense, is on trial to see that he does his job properly. Reporters are there, representing the public, to see that magistrates and judges behave themselves. Children's courts should also be open. Names should be kept out but the public should know what happens to the child and proceedings should never be conducted behind closed doors......

Somehow I believe, in the words of Jeremy Bentham, that in the darkness of secrecy all sorts of things can go wrong. And if things are really done in public you can see that the judge does behave himself, the newspapers can comment on it if he misbehaves- it keeps everyone in order".
"It is of first importance that all proceedings should be held in public and this includes the delivery of judgments together with the reasons for them. This is so that everyone who wishes to do so can come into court and hear what takes place; and also that the reported cases can be taken down by reporters for their own use." (Edmund Heward, Lord Denning, a Biography, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990, page 117.)

David Pannick , Fellow of All Souls, Oxford wrote in ‘Judges’ (OUP, 1987) :

"No one who has had any dealings with the law would dispute that the personality and interests of the judge vitally affect the way in which he decides the case, as to style and as to substance. It is a dangerous myth that, merely by putting on a .... robe and taking the oath of office as a judge, a man ceases to be human and strips himself of all predilections, becomes a passionless thinking machine".

"Judicial mavericks will always exist. But the high standards displayed by most judges ensure that the judiciary has little to fear from greater openness and accountability, it has everything to gain in terms of a more widespread understanding and appreciation of its distinction.

The unique virtues of the English judiciary would not be threatened if its members were brought out of the self-imposed seclusion and into the sunlight where their performance could be more effectively assessed. In addition, the greater publicity might reveal some room for improvement in one or two judges. The case for reform of judicial administration does not depend on the merit or demerit of the individual holders of office. Judicial administration is important because judges perform a vital and difficult function of government under the rule of law. Because judges are part of government, acting on our behalf, we are entitled to require them to abandon their priesthood and to present their activities for assessment by laymen. Any aspects of judicial administration which create barriers between the legal system and the community it serves need justification in a democratic society."

Maureen Freely writing in the The Observer about CWO- probation officers who masquerade in Britains SECRET COURTS as experts in matters of child welfare (February 20, 2000):
By training, they are criminal probation officers. When they take on this specialised job, they receive no extra training in child development, and no guidelines about how to interpret such concepts as 'reasonable contact'. Most of the reports they write are based, therefore, on personal conjecture. ...

In the 20 years since the Family Court Welfare Service was founded, there has not been a single follow-up study. The service has never checked its officers' reports for anything except spelling. Because court records are closed to the public, nobody else can check them either. ...

When the nation wondered why it was that so many fathers left home and lost touch with their children within the year, and why it was that about 900 other fathers were driven to kidnap their children every year, they rarely asked how many of those absent and kidnapping parents had been barred by the Family Welfare Service from seeing their children.

Join us in campaigning for equality and justice.