The Court of Protection has launched a pilot to test the risks and benefits of greater transparency.
The court decides on the care of people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, because of dementia, learning disabilities or severe mental health problems.
Public by default
It currently conducts hearings in private apart from in exceptional circumstances. But the pilot will open hearings to the public by default and prohibit their attendance only in exceptional circumstances.
A standard court order will allow hearings to be held in public but impose reporting restrictions on identifying the person who is the subject of proceedings.
Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service will also publish a short description of each case in its court listings so journalists can make an informed decision about whether to attend.
As in family court hearings, the Court of Protection usually calls upon social workers to give evidence.
The family court has allowed media and members of the public to attend hearings since 2009, and guidance published in 2014 resulted in an increasing number of anonymised decisions being published.
Sir James Munby, president of the family division and the Court of Protection, said this had resulted in the media becoming better informed about the workings of the family court.
“It is logical to look at extending this greater transparency to the Court of Protection, provided the right balance can be struck to safeguard the privacy of people who lack capacity to make their own decisions.”
A study carried out by Cardiff University’s law school called for journalists to be allowed routinely to attend hearings, to help ensure a transparent and open justice system.
There has traditionally been a tension between protecting the privacy of vulnerable people and the principle of open justice so that decision-makers can be held to account.
The pilot will run across England and Wales for six months from January 2016.