Open justice - a fight that must go on

The rules of the Court of Protection are the reverse of what applies elsewhere

Share

How would you feel if your beloved father developed dementia and the local council wanted to sell his house – which you live in – and family heirlooms to fund his care? Last weekend, we read that a judge in the Court of Protection ruled in just such a case and decided that a local authority could do exactly that. Essex County Council was given permission to sell a pensioner’s assets – including a Lucien Pissarro painting – to help to pay for his care in a home.

It was an issue which could affect any of us – a matter of undoubted public interest. Yet under the rules of the Court of Protection – a branch of the court system that deals with cases involving people without the mental ability to make decisions for themselves, and which is thus extremely sensitive to the need to protect the privacy of those whose affairs it handles – we might never have known about it. The CoP has long operated behind closed doors, and for the past four years The Independent has campaigned to open its proceedings up to public scrutiny.

District Judge Anselm Eldergill’s decision to allow the case, and the name of Essex County Council, to be reported brings a rare but welcome burst of sunlight into what is often depicted as the twilight world of the Court of Protection. But there is much further to go.

The CoP’s rules stipulate that hearings are generally in private, excluding both press and public – the reverse of the principle of open justice which applies in almost all other courts. The work of The Independent, supported by other media companies, has meant that we have won permission to attend and report a number of these otherwise closed hearings.

Sir James Munby, the president of the Family Division and head of Family Justice, has just issued draft guidance to increase transparency in both family courts and the Court of Protection – to help to ensure that their judgments are more widely publicised, and that local authorities and expert witnesses are not routinely anonymised.

Nonetheless, the reality remains that the press is severely hampered in carrying out its role as the public’s watchdog, often because of the large amounts of money needed to instruct Counsel to try to win access to these courts. The solution is for journalists to have the automatic right to attend CoP hearings. If the CoP rules changed so that the media was able to work together with judges on what can be published while safeguarding the interests of vulnerable people, the case of the pensioner and the Pissarro will have marked an important staging post.

Mike Dodd is a journalist and media law specialist, and the co-author of the 21st edition of “McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists”

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?