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Sir James Munby, the president of the Family Division and head of Family Justice, has just issued draft guidance to increase transparency in both family courts and the Court of Protection – to help to ensure that their judgments are more widely publicised, and that local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

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick
 

Something wrong with the Conservative Party’s game plan

John Rentoul
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing