How doctors' anonymity in family courts is under threat

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39037.704931.3A1 (Published 23 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1121

Gornall is way out of date

  1. Sarah Harman, solicitor
  1. 1Canterbury CT2 8BP harmansarah@talk21.com

    Gornall is embarrassingly out of date in his detailed analysis of the B case (which was dealt with by the family courts nearly three years ago), and its relevance to proposed changes in the law to make the English family court system more transparent.1

    Since then, notwithstanding the ever increasingly exaggerated claims from some quarters that opening the family courts would harm children and deter court experts, the courts themselves are acknowledging the need for English family courts to do their business in the more transparent way that courts in Canada, Australia, and of course Scotland have done without apparent difficulty for years. Several High Court judgments have recorded judicial support for more openness to increase public confidence, and Gornall fails to mention that the president and many of his senior judges are in favour of change in this direction.

    In a landmark case which was decided on 3 November, Munby J agreed that an ongoing case where parents dispute expert evidence that they injured their child should be open to the media. The local authority concerned issued a “position statement” to the press and the reporting in the Times, Guardian, and the Mail on Sunday set out both sides' cases, as did the broadcasting media. A BBC “Real Story” programme on the case allowed a senior official from the local authority ample time to put their case. No vilification of any experts involved was reported.

    It is likely that more judges will follow Munby J's example and more public interest cases will be opened to the media pending any change in the law.

    Will the skies fall in? I doubt it, but your readers can judge for themselves. Hopefully they will understand that in complex childcare cases where expert evidence may be tenuous and the stakes for children are very high, public debate can stimulate awareness of the problems faced by all professionals involved in child protection. It's difficult getting the balance right, but doing it in secret doesn't help.


    • Competing interests: SH is the subject of the article.