Opening up the family courts
One of the most difficult things a parent can face is accepting that the removal of their child is in that child’s best interests. Mired in feelings of grief, loss and shame, women who work with Pause can take a long time to come to terms with these decisions, and in truth, some never will. They frequently feel they have been treated unfairly, that they don’t understand the decisions made and the system has let them down.
These feelings and lack of understanding should be of huge concern to those running the courts. Research shows that courts need both to be fair but also to be seen to be fair. These perceptions of fairness are shaped as much by the way decisions are taken, as they are about the decisions they make. Crucial to determining these perceptions of fairness is that the court must be seen as being visibly accountable and that its processes and decisions are clearly understood. Sadly, this is not always the experience of women who have undergone proceedings, who often do not understand what has happened or why decisions were taken – and retain these perceptions of unfairness months or years later.
At Pause, we welcome the review being carried out by the President of the Family Division into the current arrangements which regulate access by journalists and the public to, and the reporting of, information concerning proceedings in the Family Court (‘the Transparency Review’). The women who have helped us to form our response to his Call for Evidence overwhelmingly feel that the public need to know more about what happens at court, while ensuring that the identities of those involved continue to be protected: as they describe it, “open but anonymous”. They believe this would go a long way to helping families and the wider public understand more about how the courts work, as well as giving a means to hold them to account. This is in addition to feeling that more could be done within court itself to improve understanding for those involved – being more trauma-informed, with more openness in communication and greater use of plain English. This week we submitted our response to the Transparency Review outlining our thoughts above.
The Transparency Review has the potential to lead to significant improvements: through greater transparency the Family Courts can be more accountable and better understood by those using them. We hope that the opportunity afforded by this review is taken. This could go a long way towards ensuring families feel they have been treated fairly, and so begin the painful task of accepting the courts’ decisions.
Jo Crellen is the Implementation Manager for Participation and Pause Next steps at Pause
 See, for a summary of the research, To Be Fair: Procedural Fairness at Courts https://justiceinnovation.org/publications/be-fair-procedural-fairness-courts
 41 women completed our online survey on the issue and four attended a focus group
The deadline for submissions of evidence for The Transparency Review has been extended to Monday 11 May 2020, find out more here.
If you have any questions or would like to get in touch please email firstname.lastname@example.org