Safeguarding, Privacy and Respect for Children and Young People (Part 8)

Apologies for not updating my blog for quite a long time but I have been busy with my dissertation ‘Media in the Family Courts: A Critical Analysis’, graduating, moving, starting a new job, starting a new university, helping with another paper [discussed below], and general life.

So here’s what you are here to learn about, our draft guidance on the anonamysation of judgements. In my opinion this was wrongly reported in Family Law as ‘Draft guidance published on anonymisation of children judgments’ as it could just as easily be applied to vulnerable adults, and others requiring the protection of anonymised judgements.

Again our research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and supported by the Association of Lawyers for Children. This document has already been supported by the President of the Family Court Division, although it has not yet be judicially approved.

For those of you hard up for time there is an executive summary, but for the hard core of you there is a full document which finally has my name on it. The documents lay out a handy step-by-step process to anonymise a judgement before publication, although some young people, including myself, still have reservations.

The main concern of this new guidance [which has been developed with judges, social workers, psychologists, and other organisations] is that the applying authority (LA) is still identified. During talks with the President we conceded that the applicant authority does need identifying for the purposes of accountability, although, where the applicant authority is small it may be enough to identify the subjects of the case.

As has been discussed in previous posts, some local identifiers may be unavoidable in order to provide accountability and transparency. It is important that the LA is identified as the action they are taking is in the name of the public, and ideally they are taking the best possible action for the child or young persons safety. Hopefully by applying our checklist all other possible identifiers will be removed making it harder to identify those subject to proceedings.

Previously the use of pseudonyms and initials was sporadic, with some judges using actual initials, others trying to use random pseudonyms, and others trying to be culturally sensitive with their pseudonyms. We decided that random initials would be best as these would avoid the possibility of identifying someone through small cultural groups, or, perhaps more importantly, their actual initials.

Another problem with identification is the use of dates of birth, again some judges used full dates, whilst others used ages alone. In most cases the age of a child or young person will be irrelevant so we decided that they should be completely removed where possible, where it is necessary to identify a date the year should be used, or where absolutely necessary the month and year. The same process should be applied to any other dates contained within a judgement.

Ethnic groups are tricky, and where necessary should be identified as vaguely as possible (eg “…of Eastern European origin…”). Religions should also be avoided where possible.

School issues should be redacted unless absolutely necessary in which case wide timescales should be applied in order to make identification as difficult as possible.

Where a professional, witness, or trial judge is involved [obviously a trail judge will be at this stage], it should be considered whether is it essential to name them. It may be necessary to identify someone involved in a case in order to criticise them, or hold them to account. It is difficult to decide if an expert should be identified in a case as they will need to be held to account, this can be beneficial for further similar cases to identify if they wish to use the expert and if their testimonials have been criticised.

Rather than run you through what details should be included in relation to fact finding I will just say that things should be kept as vague as possible and urge you to read the full document.

This has only been a brief overview of what the document contains, and there is still more to be said and done, including the President publishing official guidance. Our guidance has already been widely disseminated but I welcome you to share them further or ask questions.