I absolutely agree. The hon. Lady makes an incredibly powerful point. It seems that articulate, highly-educated people who have access to information are able to fight off the system, but people who do not have access to information and are not as eloquent as lawyers tend to be trampled over by the system. Many of the most tragic cases I have come across in Clacton involve people whose love for their grandchildren is as strong as anyone’s, but who are just not very articulate and are therefore trampled over by the monstrously unjust and unfair system.
To ensure that even inarticulate grandparents get justice and a fair hearing, we should adopt nine proposals. We need to recognise the importance of balancing the necessity of some degree of privacy with the need to shine a spotlight into the family court cartel. These nine proposals strike the right balance.
First, we need to promote the more extensive use of special guardianship orders, which allow a child to be made a ward of an extended family member, such as their grandparents, and allow close supervision while, in many cases, enabling the family member to raise their grandchild. Secondly, placement and adoption order proceedings should be open to the media on the same basis as other family law proceedings. Thirdly, I want the introduction of a presumption to allow reporting of family court proceedings on an anonymised basis—in other words, references could be made to child A and mother B.
Fourthly, I would like to mandate the publication of all judgments, those from district judges on application, except perhaps where a presiding judge seeks and obtains a contrary order from the president of the family division. The default should be to publish judgments. Fifthly, we should mandate that all local authority witnesses, especially social workers, be identified by name and position held. Sixthly, we should require, on application and subject to administrative costs, all expert witnesses to list the previous court cases in which they have given evidence.
Seventhly, we need to publish on an anonymised basis all statements of case, skeleton arguments, case summaries and other documents prepared and exchanged by the advocates in a case. Eighthly, we need to go far beyond the watered down Straw proposals and allow all media access to expert reports on an anonymised basis, with reporting restrictions imposed in exceptional circumstances only. Finally, we should allow unrestricted access to expert reports to academics for peer review on the condition that any research papers are anonymised.
The nine proposals are sensible and recognise the need for some degree of privacy. At the same time, they will ensure that the family courts cartel cannot continue to preside over the monstrous injustices that we never get to hear about. I hope that the Minister will take some of the suggestions on board. I am encouraged that the ideas seem to be gaining some measure of cross-party support. I hope that we can build a consensus around them and, on the basis of Sir James’s proposals, bring about legislative change.