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Family courts need radical reform to shed secrecy charge, says judge

Sir James Munby said ‘creaking rules’ govern access to family courts and reporting of family cases.

Radical reform is needed if family court judges are to rid themselves of the charge they operate a system of “private” or “secret” justice, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales said.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court, said “creaking rules” govern access to family courts and reporting of family cases.

He said statutory reform is essential and has described legislation which underpins rules as no longer fit for purpose.

The judge outlined his thoughts during a lecture at the University of Edinburgh Law School.

The task is massive, the complexity of the law is quite astonishing. Sir James Munby

“A vital aspect of the ongoing transformation in the family justice system has to be reform of our still creaking rules about access to and reporting of family cases,” he said.

“Nothing short of radical reform will enable us to rid ourselves of the relentlessly repeated and inevitably damaging charge that we operate a system of private – some say secret – justice.

“The task is massive, the complexity of the law is quite astonishing – itself a reproach to any reputable system of justice – and the differences of view as to what should be done run deep and in some respects seem almost unbridgeable.

“Statutory reform is essential – the Administration of Justice Act 1960 which remains the foundation of the modern law is no longer fit for purpose in the world (unknown in 1960) of the internet and social media.”

He said the history of attempts at reform were unpromising but told students on Tuesday: “It would be scandalous if in 10 or 20 years’ time we were still having to try and muddle along as we do at present.”

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