Minister is warned over public access

Family court chiefs have warned the government not to admit the public into hearings, after family justice minister Harriet Harman promised this week to open up the system.

Harman told the president of the High Court’s family division conference that the government would produce proposals on openness next month, saying family courts’ closed status undermined accountability.

But Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service chief executive Anthony Douglas said that while the press should be allowed in to report cases without identifying parties, public access “would be little short of disastrous”, especially in small communities.

Magistrates’ Association family proceedings committee chair Margaret Wilson said: “We think access should be reserved for people with an interest in the case, and with the permission of the court.”

Meanwhile, councils will face tougher pre-proceedings scrutiny by the courts of their applications to take children into care, backed up by new statutory guidance and possible sanctions for poor preparation.

The recommendation came in the government-commissioned child care proceedings review, published last week, which ministers have vowed to implement.

Douglas welcomed the proposal, saying the “single biggest determinant” of successful public law proceedings was a well put-together care plan.

The review also called for more early intervention to try to prevent cases reaching court.

But Alison Paddle, chair of guardians’ body Nagalro, said children would need to be separately represented in any pre-proceedings to ensure their rights were upheld.

The review also called for further work into setting up pooled budgets and joint targets between agencies.


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