The anonymised judgment in Re A (A Letter to a Young person)  EWFC 48, largely comprises a letter addressed to a 14-year-old boy, referred to by the name of 'Sam'. Sam was the subject of the proceedings to determine, amongst other issues, whether he should be permitted to move to an identified country in Scandinavia with his father. His mother opposed the proposed move. Sam said that he wanted to go and he instructed his own solicitor.
When giving his judgment, Mr Justice Peter Jackson refused permission for Sam to be removed from England to Scandanavia. He gave his decision in the form of a letter to Sam explaining his decision and the reasoning behind his decision in clear, straightforward terms. The decision has a warmth and understanding often lacking from similar judgements.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson's approach in this case is to be commended. This judgement follows a growing view that judges should be producing their judgments in a more concise form and in plain English, where possible. This is particularly important in cases involving children. It is important that that children are not only appropriately involved in proceedings concerning them but that they understand decisions ultimately made about them and the reasons behind the decisions.
In 2016 Mr Justice Peter Jackson was also praised for using plain English in the judgment in Lancashire County Council v M and Others  EWFC 9. The case was care proceedings concerning four children, in which there was a concern that the father of the youngest two children might take them to Syria. In the judgment he skilfully and simply dealt with issues ranging from domestic abuse to a complex terrorist investigation in the concise 17-page judgement. The judgment was meant to be as short and clear as possible in the hope that the mother and the older children could understand it.
Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, has expressed the view that judges should change the way they write to maintain public confidence in the justice system. He said: ‘It is not realistic to expect that every Judgment could be understood by everyone: human nature, the complexities of modern life, and the intricacies of the law do not permit that,’ he said. ‘However, if we are to maintain public confidence in the justice system, judges must make their Judgments as accessible as possible, particularly to members of the public and litigants-in-person.’
Every day family judges across the UK make important decisions about families and their children in relation to private and public law applications. They may be deciding a variety of issues such as whether a child should be taken from their parents and placed in care, which parent should a child live with, or whether a child should have a certain level of contact with their father. All judges are responsible for explaining their reasons for making these decisions, sometime verbally and at other times in writing. Writing clear and easy to understand judgements, or indeed producing any piece of legal writing in plain English, takes time, effort and great skill. It is not only judges who should put this into practice, but solicitors should do so as well.
At Morton Fraser we have highlighted clarity as our guiding principle. This directs the way we communicate and the way we advise. Legal concepts can be complicated but we will always endeavor to take time to explain and ensure our clients understand our advice.