Planned changes to the way family court proceedings are held were announced this week in a bid to increase public confidence in the way important decisions are made about children and their families.
The plans would see the family court system opened to the media, meaning no more restrictions on identifying professionals involved in cases, including social workers, family court advisers and guardians. Safeguards would be introduced to ensure the continued anonymity of all children and parents involved.
Currently, most family court proceedings are held in private, but this has often led to accusations of secret injustice.
“Public confidence depends on public scrutiny,” constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman said, launching the consultation. “Justice not only has to be done, it has to be seen to be done – including in the family courts. Greater openness will mean a greater understanding of the courts’ work and recognition of those involved. Privacy is necessary to protect families seeking justice, but privacy is not necessary to protect the courts. The courts have nothing to hide.”
However, social worker representatives warned that frontline professionals giving evidence or making recommendations in cases could be subjected to vilification in the media or made scapegoats for systemic child protection failings if the plans went ahead unchanged.
Go to the DCA’s on-line discussion at www.familycourtsforum.net/